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THE art of painting in oils is a very difficult one, and 
not the least of its difficulties consists in the great 
uncertainty that exists as to the proper methods to be 
pursued. As a rule the great painters have been too 
much occupied with their painting to explain to the 
world how their effects have been produced. Indeed, 
it would seem that they have not always known 
themselves ; for when they have theorised upon the 
subject their theories have been often quite irrecorr- " 
cilable with their practice. 

Fortunately, they have generally had pupils who 
have carried on the tradition of their masters' work, 
and on the Continent this excellent system is still in 
force at the present day, for most of the great foreign 
painters think it their duty to give up a certain 
amount of their time to teaching, without any other 
reward than the additional fame conferred on them 
by the successes of their pupils. 

For some reason or other this practice is almost 
unknown in England. Our English painters have no 



pupils, so the experience they have so laboriously 
acquired for themselves is of no profit to others. It 
is true that the schools of the Royal Academy are 
visited in turn by some of the Academicians, but the 
utmost that a student can hope to gain from these 
visits is a confused jumble of at least a dozen 
different methods. 

Nor is there much enlightenment to be gained 
from books. It is a melancholy fact that more non- 
sense can be talked about art than about any other 
subject, and writers of treatises on painting, from the 
great Leonardo downwards, have not been slow to 
avail themselves of this privilege. The student who 
attempts to model his practice on their precepts must 
inevitably arrive at the most disastrous results. 

I am aware that after having said this it must 
seem the height of folly to add another to these 
treatises ; but I have a firm conviction, in spite of 
all experience, that it is possible to apply ordinary 
common sense to these matters, and I mean to 
try to do so. 

First of all it may be as well to lay down, with 
some attempt at precision, the object the student 
should have in view. 

To whatever use he may mean to put his art 
eventually, the one thing that he has to learn as a 
student is how to represent faithfully any object that 
he has before him. The man who can do this is a 
painter, the man who cannot do it is not one. Of 
course there is more to be done in painting than this, 
but once this power has been attained the student 


stage is at an end the workman has learnt his craft, 
he has become a painter. 

Of course, having got so far he may fail to apply 
his knowledge to any good purpose, but at least the 
means of expression are ready to his hand. 

This representation of natural objects by means 
of pigments on a flat surface is a very definite matter, 
and most people are competent to judge of the truth 
or falsehood of such a representation, if they are fairly 
put in a position to do so ; even the student himself 
can be a good judge of the success of his own work 
if he will make due allowance for his natural parti- 
ality for it. 

There is, after all, nothing so very mysterious in 
the matter. Every natural object appears to us as a 
sort of pattern of different shades and colours. The 
task of the artist is so to arrange his shades and 
colours on his canvas that a similar pattern is pro- 
duced. If this be well done the effect on the eye will 
be almost identical. As far as seeing is concerned, 
the two things, the object and the picture, will be 
alike ; they will be absolutely different to the sense 
of touch, or indeed to any other sense, but to the 
sense of sight they will be practically identical. 

I am sorry to say anything that may diminish the 
awe with which the outside public regards my pro- 
fession, but instead of finding it (as many worthy 
persons do) almost miraculous that a perfect repre- 
sentation should be made on a flat surface of solid 
objects, I have always wondered why it should be so 

6 2 


Let us state the problem once again 

Whenever we look at a scene we have a patch- 
work of shades and colours floating before our eyes, 
and this in fact is the scene ; we have to place on 
canvas similar patches, similar in form, position, 
colour, and intensity. It ought not to be difficult ; 
any one who can judge if two colours and two forms 
are alike ought to be able to paint an accurate 
picture of anything that he has before him. And yet 
it undoubtedly is difficult so difficult that a long and 
laborious course of study is needed before even the 
most gifted can achieve a real proficiency in this 
elementary part of their art. 

Unfortunately, in England at the present day, a 
student is left very much to his own resources when 
he enters upon that most difficult part of his studies 
which comprises the practice of painting as dis- 
tinguished from that of drawing. In most of the art 
schools now in existence it is easy to get good in- 
struction in drawing, but the teaching of painting is 
mostly very inadequate. The painter who knows his 
business will not, with some few exceptions, waste his 
time in giving instruction, and the instruction to be 
gained from a painter who does not know his business 
is worse than useless. 

If by any means the student can obtain personal 
instruction from a competent painter he will not need 
this handbook nor any other ; but if he cannot I will 
endeavour to show how he may, to a great extent, 
teach himself. 

In the first place, it is necessary to have some sort 


of method, both as to the routine of study and as to 
the technical processes to be employed. With regard 
to technique, I shall describe a very simple system of 
painting which I recommend the student to try ; but 
as it frequently happens that a method which suits 
one man does not suit another, I shall give a short 
account of some other methods, in the hope that 
amongst them the student will find the one that is 
best suited to his talent. 

And first as to the routine of study. I start by 
supposing that the student has already acquired a 
fair knowledge of drawing ; there is no lack of good 
teaching of drawing in England, so there is no excuse 
for incompetence in this matter. 

By good drawing I mean a power of accurately 
portraying the shapes and position of things, but it is 
not at all necessary to have any special dexterity with 
the pencil. In oil painting the original drawing may 
be clumsy, untidy, vacillating in short, have every 
possible fault of execution ; but as long as it is sub- 
stantially accurate it will serve its purpose. Of 
course, there is no advantage in clumsiness ; it simply 
does not matter. There is one general principle 
which I think may be of service in drawing. The 
painter should always train himself to seize first on 
the more important points of the object he is depict- 
ing, and then go on to the less important points in 

First of all, he should fix the position of the 
object he is drawing with regard to the other objects 
in the picture, then he should determine its relative 


size, then its shape, then the proportions of its parts, 
and finally its minute details. 

In the case of a student who is able to make a 
fairly accurate if somewhat bungling drawing, the 
course of study I should recommend is this: he should 
begin by what is called " still life ; " that is, he should 
carefully make an arrangement of some simple objects 
which are not liable to any change in appearance ; 
it matters very little what they are as long as they 
conform to this rule, which, of course, excludes all 
living things. Perhaps china and pots and pans make 
the best preliminary exercises, care being taken to 
avoid any elaborate patterns, or anything in which the 
detail is intricate. These objects should be arranged 
with some simple background behind them, and in as 
steady a light as possible that is, a light that re- 
mains practically the same from day to day, and 
from hour to hour. A room with a north window 
is best ; if there are other windows in the room, 
they can be blocked up. Should there be no con- 
venient room with a north window in it, some room 
can always be found in which the light is steady 
for a part of the day, and the painting should only 
be done during this part of the day. Even with a 
north window a great deal of inconvenience can 
arise if there be any building in front of it which 
can reflect the sunlight ; this should be carefully 
taken into consideration in choosing the painting 
room. Of course, it is better in every way to have 
a regular studio ; but it is not every beginner who 
can indulge in such a luxury, whereas a room in 


which it is possible to paint can be found in every 
house. There is one other thing to be considered 
in the choice of a room : it must not be too small. 
It is essential that the painter should be able to see 
his work from a good distance. The kind of window 
matters very little as long as the light is steady. The 
window can be high or low, big or small ; a light from 
above is in some ways best, but it can very well be 
dispensed with ; and a very small window gives light 
enough to paint by if the painting be brought close 
enough to it. 

The way in which the object is lit up is compara- 
tively unimportant as long as the lighting remains 
the same. Any kind of light and shade is good for 
study, but it is very important that there should be a 
good light on the picture. If an oil picture be turned 
towards the light it gets what is called a shine that 
is, it reflects the window. Of course, if it be too much 
turned away it does not have light enough on it, so it 
must be turned sideways with regard to the window, 
unless, indeed, the light comes very much from above, 
in which case it can be placed in almost any position 
which is one of the advantages of a top light. 

It is, therefore, the lighting of the picture that has 
to be chiefly considered in arranging the position of 
the " still life." I shall point out, later on, how im- 
portant it is that the picture should be often placed 
side by side with the object, and then looked at from 
some distance ; consequently, the object should be so 
arranged that when this is done the picture receives a 
good light. 


And now a word as to the materials to be used. 
A stretched canvas is on the whole the most con- 
venient thing to paint on ; it should neither be very 
rough nor very smooth, nor should it be of too small 
a size ; about 24 x 20 inches is a good size for studies. 
On canvases much smaller than this the work is apt 
to be niggling, but they may be as much larger as the 
ambition of the painter may suggest. In many ways 
it is better that the study should be of the same size 
as the object, but it is not essential. The painter 
should always, if possible, stand up to his work ; so 
the easel must be tall and substantial. As it is im- 
portant that the picture should be perpendicular, the 
common three-legged easels which slope backwards 
should be avoided. It is also important that the 
picture should be readily moved up and down, so that 
any part which is being worked at may be kept at a 
level with the eye. The " still life," also, should be 
placed more or less on a level with the eye. 

The preliminary drawing should be made with 
charcoal. There is no other material that gives such 
freedom of execution and such facility of correction. 

To begin the drawing, the easel should be placed 
at some distance from the object, and the draughts- 
man should stand as far from his canvas as is con- 
sistent with the power of drawing on it. He should 
practise drawing with an outstretched arm, and every 
now and then should step backwards to judge better 
of the effect. Indeed, there is no more useful general 
rule in painting than this : that the painter should con- 
tinually look at his picture from as far off as possible. 


From time to time the picture should be placed 
side by side with the object, so that they can be 
looked at together from the end of the room. This 
is supposing the picture to be of the size of life ; if 
it be under life-size it should be placed at that point 
in front of the object where they both appear of the 
same size when looked at from the end of the room. 
When the two, picture and object, are thus seen side 
by side, it must be a very dull eye that cannot dis- 
tinguish inaccuracies. 

This is the most potent aid to self-improvement ; 
by continually resorting to this method the student 
can be his own teacher, and correct his own faults. 
It should be employed from time to time throughout 
the whole progress of the painting. Indeed, it is 
quite possible to leave the canvas permanently side 
by side with the object, and to walk backwards and 
forwards from the end of the room during the whole 
course of the painting, giving a touch or two at a 
time, and always going back to see if it be right. 
This method is much less tedious than it seems ; 
and that it is capable of giving good results is abun- 
dantly proved by the fact that Sir John Millais never 
paints in any other way. So if any student like to 
take it up he can be sure that it will not be the fault 
of his method if he fail to take the highest rank in 
his profession. Nevertheless, I think the modification 
of it that I suggest will be found more generally 
convenient ; that is, that the painter should habitually 
work a good way off from the object, but should from 
time to time place his picture side by side with it, 


and then look at them both together from a dis- 

As a further aid in detecting inaccuracies a look- 
ing-glass is invaluable. A large upright one should 
be kept in the painting room, in such a position that 
both the picture and the object can be seen in it at 
the same time. 

The special usefulness of a looking-glass consists 
in this, that the most difficult errors to detect are 
those which come under the head of obliquity that 
is, there is a continual tendency to draw things a little 
askew ; but when such drawings are seen in the glass 
the obliquity is precisely reversed, and strikes the 
eye the more forcibly the more it has become ac- 
customed to it For instance, the painter in drawing 
a line which should be perpendicular has made it 
incline (let us say) a little to the left. If the error be 
not noticed at once the eye soon gets accustomed to 
it, and takes all lines inclining a little to the left as 
perpendicular. But in the looking-glass this very line 
appears inclining to the right, and consequently seems 
even more out of the perpendicular than it really is. 

Quite apart from this, the advantage of having a 
fresh view of one's picture such as the looking-glass 
gives cannot be over-estimated. In painting, as in 
everything else, there is a fatal tendency to become 
accustomed to one's faults. There is nothing like 
seeing them from a different point of view to give 
renewed freshness to one's pictorial conscience. 

Of course the first thing in making a drawing is 
to get the more important lines right in shape and 


position. In order to do this with more precision it 
is sometimes recommended that the drawing should 
be blocked out, as it is called that is, that it should 
all be drawn in straight lines, curved portions and all, 
and the curves eventually obtained by rounding off 
the angles. 

I think myself it is a mistake to draw things so 
very differently from how one sees them. A curve 
should be drawn as a curve from the very beginning; 
but, of course, the minor details should be left till the 
last. The first sketch should be a bold rendering of 
the principal lines, giving the general curvature but 
neglecting any minor sinuosities. This should be 
corrected until all the proportions and positions are 
right. The lines should then be hall rubbed out and 
carefully re-drawn, the minor sinuosities being put in, 
and the whole line thoroughly studied with regard to 
its sweep and curvature. Any straight lines may as 
well be ruled ; we should never disdain any aid to 
accuracy. Wherever it is possible, actual measurer 
ment should be used that is, generally for every line 
that is not foreshortened. Even foreshortened lines 
may be roughly measured on a pencil held in front 
of the eye, and then compared with other lines 
that are not foreshortened. A plumb-line is occasion- 
ally useful for determining what lines are perpen- 
dicular, and what part of the object comes over other 
parts. But, as a rule, these latter aids will scarcely 
be found necessary if the student avail himself of the 
accuracy to be gained by placing the canvas side by 
side with the object. 


When the main lines have been accurately drawn 
in this manner, the charcoal should again be half 
brushed off (either with a soft feather-brush or by 
flipping the canvas), and the lines should then be 
carefully re-traced with brown or black paint, made 
fluid with turpentine, the lines being made fairly thick 
and not too faint. 

The picture is now ready for painting on. Of 
course it is very important to have a proper assort- 
ment of colours, in the choice of which three things 
have to be borne in mind : 

Firstly, the colours must be permanent. It is true 
that it matters very little whether the student's earlier 
efforts be painted with permanent pigments or not ; 
but every student hopes to turn out valuable work 
some day, and should consequently get into the habit 
from the very first of using none but trustworthy 

Secondly, the colours must be capable, with care- 
ful mixing, of rendering all, or nearly all, the tints to 
be met with in Nature. 

Thirdly, they must be as few in number as is con- 
sistent with the foregoing consideration ; for it is 
obvious that the fewer they are the easier it is 
to get thoroughly at home with their various com- 

I think the palette I shall now recommend fairly 
meets these three requirements Brown ochre, yellow 
ochre, Naples yellow, flake white, orange vermilion, 
light red, Chinese vermilion, rose madder, burnt 
sienna, cobalt, ivory black. 


These colours will be found sufficient for ordinary 
purposes; but there are certain greens, especially 
those occurring in landscape, which require another 
yellow, and the choice of this is of some difficulty. 
Chrome is precisely the tint that is wanted, but its 
stability is too doubtful to allow it to be recom- 

Pale cadmium will fairly take its place, and is 
said by the chemists to be quite safe. A still paler 
cadmium, called mutrie yellow, is much more the 
tint that is required ; but it is certainly unsafe, and 
should be resolutely avoided. 

There are three other colours which should be 
held in reserve, to be used occasionally when required. 
Emerald oxide of chromium is a very powerful and 
perfectly permanent green, which will be found useful 
as giving a richer and deeper tint than any combina- 
tion of cobalt and yellow. Personally I find it 
useful in flesh-tints, but for these there is certainly 
no necessity for using it. 

So far, my palette has the great recommendation 
of being the one used by Mr. Alma Tadema, from 
whom I have taken it ; but there are two other 
colours which he uses very little, if at all, which I 
think, nevertheless, the student may find useful at 
times. These are raw umber and deep cadmium. 
Although a tint can be mixed of other colours 
which shall fairly represent raw umber, yet it is so 
convenient in the making of certain browns and 
greys that I should be sorry to do without it. 
Deep cadmium is so fine a colour, that it would 


be a pity not to have it at hand when a particularly 
brilliant yellow is required. 

Equipped with these colours, the student may 
feel confident that there is hardly a tint in Nature 
that he cannot reproduce, with some inevitable loss 
of brilliancy at times, but still with substantial accu- 
racy. There is no reason why he should not occa- 
sionally experiment with other pigments that are 
known to be permanent ; but it will save him a great 
deal of time, and probably much disappointment, to 
put off these experiments until he has advanced some 
way in his art. I am quite certain that my list is 
good enough to begin with at any rate. 

I have put the colours in the order in which I set 
them on the palette. It is an order which I have 
found convenient in practice, but, of course, their 
relative position matters very little ; but it is as well 
to fix on a given arrangement, and not alter it, 
as then the operation of dipping the brush into 
any particular colour is much more rapid and 

The choice of the palette itself is not of much 
importance. It should be rather large than small, but 
not so large as to be tiring to hold. 

Some kind of medium must be used with the 
colours, and the choice of it is rather difficult. I 
think on the whole a mixture of copal, linseed-oil, 
and turpentine, is the best for general purposes. It 
should be mixed in about equal proportions of all 
three, unless the picture be required to dry quickly, 
when the linseed oil should be diminished, or even 


left out altogether. The medium should be held in 
a dipper fastened on to the palette. 

The brushes should be numerous and varied. The 
most generally useful are flat hog's-hair brushes, which 
should range in size from about an inch in diameter 
to about a quarter of an inch. There should be at 
least two fine sables, and two so-called writer-brushes, 
for drawing lines ; these last should always be used 
in retracing the charcoal outline. One or two round 
hog's-hair will also be found useful. 

For the first day's painting only the larger 
brushes will be necessary. A palette-knife is quite 
indispensable ; it should be of horn, as the contact 
with a steel palette-knife is supposed to affect the 
permanence of some pigments. 

Economy should be studiously avoided in the 
setting of the palette ; there is nothing more likely 
to give a bad style in oil painting than insufficiency 
of colours. In this, but in nothing else, the painter 
should be reckless. He should also be warned against 
endeavouring to paint with the half-dry remains of 
colour that accumulate on the palette. Some pig- 
ments, such as rose madder, remain in a fit state 
'to paint with after having been on the palette for 
many days ; but others become sticky in a day or 
two. As soon as they are in this state they should 
be thrown away. Colours can be kept moist for 
some time by putting them in water, but as a rule 
it is not worth while to do this. 

A considerable economy can, however, be prac- 
tised in brushes by always cleaning them oneself. A 


paint brush will last a long time if it be carefully washed 
soon after it has been used. The best way of wash- 
ing them is to put a little soft soap in the palm of the 
hand and to work the brushes about in this, rinsing 
them out in moderately warm water from time to 
time. When they are free from all traces of colour, 
they should be well rinsed in cold water, so as to 
get rid of the soap, then squeezed out with a cloth, 
and any straggling hairs brought together, so as to 
preserve the proper shape of the brush, and then put 
in a moderately warm place to dry. 

We will now suppose that the palette is set. How 
shall we proceed to paint with it ? 

The first thing to be done is to match the tints of 
the object, and to put them on the canvas in their 
proper places without the slightest attempt at detail 
or execution ; and the easiest way to do this is to take 
the palette-knife, mix to the best of one's judgment 
a tint corresponding to some patch of colour on the 
object, and then hold up the palette-knife in front of 
this patch of colour and compare the two. When the 
comparison is put in such a direct manner to the eye 
no very bad match can pass muster. The first shot 
will probably be ludicrously unlike, and the mixture 
must be modified again and again until complete 
success is arrived at, which is only the case when the 
end of the palette-knife can hardly be distinguished 
from the patch of colour in front of which it is held. 
The paint should then be dabbed on to the proper 
place on the canvas, and spread with a brush until 
it is of the proper size and shape, care being taken 


that the colour be sufficiently thick to prevent the 
canvas showing through. This operation should be 
repeated for every considerable patch of colour or 
light and shade in the object or in the background 
until the canvas is completely covered, when it should 
look like a sort of mosaic, giving, when seen at some 
distance, a good idea of the general look of the object 
without any of its details. It is an operation of great 
tcdiousness, but it should be strenuously persevered 
with, as there is no other method by which a beginner 
can hope to give anything like a really accurate re- 
production of the tints of a natural object. 

Besides being tedious, the operation has certain 
difficulties which can only be overcome by the 
exercise of considerable care. It will be found at 
once that the tint on the palette-knife varies very 
much according as it is turned towards the light 
or away from it. To make the results uniform the 
canvas should first of all be placed in a fairly strong 
light, but sufficiently turned away from the window to 
prevent any shine from appearing on its surface when 
painted on. (This must be made the subject of direct 
experiment : a dab or two of paint will settle the 
matter). The palette-knife should then be held close 
to the picture, with its surface parallel to the surface 
of the picture ; if the colours be matched with the 
knife in this position they will look the same when 
they are placed on the canvas as they did whilst being 
matched. It is obvious that if this be not the case 
the matching can only give false results. 

When the canvas is covered in this way the first 


day's painting is at an end. Care should be taken 
not to leave the paint too rough on any part. (When 
the learner is more advanced he may try laying on 
the paint roughly when a rough texture is needed, 
and smoothly when the surfaces represented are 
smooth ; but for the present he had better eschew 
these subtleties). Nor should any sharp edges be left ; 
they would probably have to be corrected, if ever so 
slightly, in the finishing, and an edge of oil paint is a 
troublesome thing to alter; consequently all the out- 
lines should be a little blurred, as it is very easy to 
make them sharp at any time, and this should be done 
once and for all, wherever necessary, in the finishing. 

I have mentioned that the paint should nowhere 
be so thin that the canvas can in any way show 
through. The reason for this is that the colour will 
be altered by the ground underneath, unless this 
ground be completely hidden ; it is only by putting 
them on thickly that we can trust our matched tints 
to be correct. The modifications that come from 
colour underneath showing through a thin coat of oil- 
paint are very curious, but I must defer the discussion 
of them. For the present it will be sufficient to say 
that a colour laid thinly on a dark ground appears 
colder *>., bluer than its natural hue, whereas a 
thin coat of colour on a light ground (such as an 
ordinary white canvas) assumes a warmer i.e., a more 
orange hue. 

When the day's painting is over the canvas should 
be put in the sun, or in front of a fire, to dry, care 
being taken not to put it so close to the fire as to 


make the oil bubble up. There will be no danger of 
this at a distance of from four to five feet from even a 
very strong fire. 

Even when we have done our best to hasten the 
drying of our picture, it will certainly not be in a fit 
state to work on again until a clear day has elapsed. 
This is one of the serious inconveniences of oil paint- 
ing ; but it can be easily met by having two pictures 
going on on alternate days, which is not a bad thing 
in other ways, as the change of subject gives the eye 
a rest. 

When it is absolutely necessary to go on with the 
same painting day after day, the only plan to adopt 
is to paint a bit of it at a time ; but this is certainly 
not a good method for beginners. As a general rule, 
one should never touch an oil painting unless it is 
quite wet or quite dry. Unless very exceptional 
effects are required, there is nothing more fatal than 
to work at a picture when it is sticky. 

In damp weather pictures are apt to be very slow 
in drying. This can be prevented, to a certain extent, 
by diminishing the proportion of oil in the medium. 

When our picture is quite dry we must consider 
how to advance it a stage further. 

In the first place it should be rubbed over lightly 
with linseed-oil ; it will very likely be found that in 
places, at least, the oil will not " take," as it is called 
that is, it persists in congregating in little patches 
and leaving other patches quite bare. This can be 
remedied by breathing on the picture, when the oil 
will be found to flow quite evenly over it. The oil 
C 2 


should now be carefully wiped off again with a soft 
brush, and the picture will be ready for painting on. 

It should first of all be placed side by side with 
the object, and looked at from the end of the room, 
and in the looking-glass. If there be much wrong 
with any of the tints it will be detected at once when 
looked at in this way, especially as the painter comes 
to it with a fresh eye. The picture should be left 
side by side with the object, and the tones corrected 
wherever necessary} the paint being now used quite 
thinly, and put on with the brush. The painter should 
always judge of the effect from the end of the room, 
and should, from time to time, resort to the looking- 
glass as a means of further refreshing his judgment. 
When the general tones appear quite right the picture 
should be brought away from the object, and the 
larger details should be put in, the forms being care- 
fully drawn with any brush that seems appropriate 
the rule, however, being observed that a small brush 
should not be used wherever a larger one can render 
the form equally well. 

Texture should be given when necessary by 
dabbing the paint on roughly where uneven surfaces 
occur ; but, except in these places, the paint should be 
used thinly, so as to merely modify the first painting 
without entirely obscuring it. 

The subsequent paintings should all be in this 
style ; finer and finer details being added, and 
especially towards the last the edges should be very 
carefully seen to ; texture always appears most at the 
edges, and can only be thoroughly rendered by a 


very careful attention to their character. Wherever 
an edge appears quite sharp this should be given by 
an actual edge of paint, but it is most important that 
no edge should be painted sharply which is not quite 
sharp in Nature ; draperies have hardly ever quite 
sharp edges, but, of course, the degrees of sharpness 
and smoothness vary indefinitely, and all these 
degrees should be carefully rendered. Again, even 
a sharp edge is generally lost sight of somewhere or 
other, owing to its being of almost the same tone as 
some object behind it. To this also great attention 
should be paid. There is a curious tendency in the 
human mind to imagine it sees a continuation of any 
line when it knows that the object is continuous, and 
this is a tendency against which the artist should be 
particularly on his guard. 

During the progress of these successive paintings 
the study ought to be gradually getting more like the 
object, until at last, when placed side by side with 
the object, and looked at from the end of the room, 
it ought, at first sight, to be almost doubtful which is 
which. Even for a beginner, if he follow this method 
it is quite possible to produce a picture which shall 
be astonishingly like any simple object, and, indeed, 
he must persevere until it is like the object ; for if it 
look markedly unlike it in any particular he ought 
to be able to see where the discrepancy lies, and to 
correct it accordingly. 

The study should be regarded as finished when it 
looks so from the end of the room. If the room be of 
large size this is compatible with considerable breadth 


of treatment. It is a pity for the student to bother 
himself with elaborate detail, which he can only see 
when close to the object ; for there is no difficulty in 
painting detail, the real difficulty lies in getting the 
general truth of tone and tint. 

And here it may be as well to define our terms a 
little more precisely. Not only do natural objects 
vary in hue, but also in degrees of light and shade, 
and it is well to carefully distinguish between these 
two kinds of variations. For instance, two objects 
can be of the same darkness, but of different colours ; 
or they can be of the same colour, but of different 
degrees of darkness. Unfortunately, the terms gene- 
rally used to express these variations are rather am- 
biguous ; but there is sufficient authority to justify me 
in using " tone " to express light and shade, and " tint " 
to express colour or hue. For instance, I should say 
of an object of a dark but strong red that it was low 
(or dark) in tone, but rich (or strong) in tint. At any 
rate, I propose to restrict the terms to these definite 
meanings for the remainder of this work. 

Of the two, undoubtedly, truth of tone is the more 
difficult of attainment, especially to a beginner, and 
this for a very curious reason. The light and shade 
of objects are accidental peculiarities, and subject to 
continual variations, whereas their colours are mostly 
permanent, or, at any rate, only liable to small varia- 
tions on account of difference of illumination. So in 
thinking of objects we always see them mentally in 
their true colours, but of no particular light and shade. 
In fact the colour of an object helps to distinguish it 


from other objects, and for that reason is important 
to us. Its light and shade are accidental, and not 
essential, peculiarities, and, being of comparatively 
small importance to us, are habitually disregarded by 
all who are not artists ; so much so that the natural 
tendency of children when they begin to paint is to 
leave out the shadows altogether, and merely to 
paint every object with a uniform coat of its local 
colour. Now, although we know better than that, 
even as art students, yet this tendency hangs about 
us in a curious way, so that hardly any beginner ever 
makes his shadows nearly dark enough. Indeed, it 
requires years of training before we are aware of the 
true depth of shadow that a light object is capable of 

It is in the correction of this tendency that the 
palette-knife method is so very valuable. No amount 
of mental prejudice can prevent the eye from passing 
a sound judgment on two patches of tone placed in 
immediate juxtaposition. 

I have treated of this matter a little more fully in 
the theoretical portion of the book ; but it was neces- 
sary to mention it here, as it helps to justify the very 
severe method that I recommend. 

The student should persevere for some time with 
this painting of still life, and on no account should he 
attempt landscape or figures, or live animals, or in- 
deed anything that is apt to change its aspect, until 
he has acquired the power of producing an accurate 
likeness of a simple object. There is no reason that 
this kind of study should be tedious or monotonous ; 


with a little skill the most charming combinations of 
colour can be produced out of very simple materials, 
and, indeed, this should be part of his artistic training, 
to see what combinations of colour and form are 
harmonious and what are discordant. Unfortunately, 
no rules can be given to guide him in this difficult 
question of harmony ; he must try different com- 
binations, and not be content until he gets some- 
thing which he feels at once is beautiful. With a 
continual striving after beauty will come increased 
refinement of taste and certainty of judgment. At 
least, if it do not, it is proof positive that he has 
not the artistic spirit, and he had better direct his 
energies to some other pursuit. 

When the student can honestly say to himseli 
that his studies of still life are thoroughly accurate, 
he had better begin the practice of landscape. And 
the sort of landscape he should choose is one that 
most resembles the work he has been doing hitherto ; 
that is, he should take some simple subject, seen 
under the simplest possible effect, and, above all, one 
that can be trusted to remain without much change 
for some time together. 

For instance, he should take a bit of old wall, 
and only work at it when the sky is grey, leaving off 
painting whenever the sun comes out. The painting 
of sunlight must not be attempted for a long time, 
for it is not only difficult on account of its dazzling 
the eye, but it is also a terrible offender against our 
law of reasonable permanency of effect, as every 
shadow it throws is continually changing its position 


Fortunately there are many grey days in England, 
so there will be plenty of opportunity for landscape 
study of the kind suited to a beginner. 

The method of work should be much the same as 
that pursued in the painting of still life. There will 
be more difficulty in matching the tints with the 
palette-knife, as the sky will generally be found to be 
so bright that no paint can quite render its luminous 
quality ; but almost everything else can be properly 
matched, and this should always be done whenever 
practicable. The canvas should be placed well out 
in the open air, and should not be shaded by an 
umbrella, which is really only necessary in the paint- 
ing of sunlight. In fact, the picture should be in 
much the same light as the object. Some inconve- 
nience may be caused by the light shining through 
the canvas, if the sky be very bright behind it. Of 
course, this can always be remedied by putting some- 
thing behind the canvas. A newspaper does as well 
as anything else, and has the great advantage of 
being easily procurable. 

With all our precautions in choosing a simple 
subject, and only working in grey days, it will be 
found that anything out-of-doors is apt to change its 
colour and tone in a very perplexing way. As it is 
obviously useless to endeavour to correct our tones 
and tints every time that the landscape looks differ- 
ent to us, it is as well to be very careful in matching 
them at first, and not correcting them unless we feel 
quite convinced that they were wrong from the be- 
ginning. All the tones should be put in on the first 


day (as in painting the still life), and unless the day 
has been very changeable, we shall feel sure that they 
all go well together that is, that they represent the 
same aspect of the scene ; whereas, if we lay in dif- 
ferent parts of the landscape on different days, the 
probability is that they will not go well together, 
and will represent two or more quite incompatible 

Once the tones have been laid in they should, as 
I have already remarked, be left unmodified, except 
for very good reasons. The subsequent work should 
consist in putting in the details, and, if necessary, 
correcting the drawing, which can be done at any 
time, as, if the subject be well chosen, its forms will 
remain the same from day to day. 

Of course, the student need not confine himself to 
pieces of wall or bits of outhouses, though these are 
certainly the best for his first beginnings. He can 
try his hand at trees and shrubs ; but, as a rule, he 
had best not paint them too close, or all his energies 
will be absorbed in struggling with the unmanageable 
wealth of detail presented by the leaves and boughs, 
and his attention will be distracted from the relative 
tones and tints which should be his chief object of 
study. He should avoid flowers for the present, as 
they change too much ; and he should not attempt 
elaborate distant views, as these also change, though 
in a different way, as they are so much more affected 
by varying atmospheric conditions than are objects 
in the foreground. There is, besides, the great diffi- 
culty of aerial perspective, which of course must be 


grappled with at some future time, but for which the 
student is hardly ripe as yet. I shall have something 
to say on this subject later on, as the difficulties of 
aerial perspective can be a good deal smoothed by 
a proper understanding of its causes. 

In painting out-of-doors the looking-glass should 
on no account be neglected. A small hand-glass 
should be as indispensable as the palette, and should 
be constantly consulted. The so-called " Claude " 
glasses, or black convex mirrors, are sometimes of 
service, especially where the light is very strong, as 
they tone the landscape down until it looks more 
like a picture ; but one will scarcely be needed until 
more difficult effects are attempted. 

If possible, the painter should stand up to his 
work, and should from time to time look at it from a 
distance, especially from such a distance that it looks 
of the same size as the bit of landscape that he is 
painting. When simple landscapes seen under a 
simple effect of light have been fairly mastered, it 
will be as well to proceed to the study of figures. 

This necessitates much more accurate draughts- 
manship than the previous studies, so the student 
should go back to his drawing for a while before he 
attempts the difficult task of painting the human 
figure. It is not that the drawing of figures is in 
itself much more difficult than the drawing of any- 
thing else, if due allowance be made for the fact that 
no model, however well trained, can keep perfectly 
still ; but that the human figure is so much better 
known to us than any other objects, that very small 


errors in the representation of it are intolerable to 
any sensitive eye. An error of proportion, which 
would be a matter of indifference in drawing a pot or 
a pan, would be sufficient in drawing the human figure 
to turn an Adonis into a deformed cripple. This 
sense of form and proportion, which is strong even in 
people who are not trained in drawing, should be 
sedulously cultivated by the artist. 

This sense undoubtedly was developed to its 
highest pitch in the best days of Greek art. Never 
has the human figure, as it ought to be that is, un- 
spoilt by disease and misuse been so thoroughly 
understood as it was by the great Athenian artists. 
The best of the moderns can but follow falteringly in 
their footsteps, and even the giants of the Renaissance, 
in this respect at least, fell far below the standard ot 
Phidias and Praxiteles. The reason of this is not far 
to seek : it was not alone the genius with which the 
Greek artists were so fully endowed (indeed it would 
be difficult to suppose that their natural gifts excelled 
those of Michael Angelo), but also that the circum- 
stances of their lives enabled them to see the perfection 
of the human form more frequently, and under better 
conditions than has been possible in any subsequent 
civilisation. As it is obvious that we cannot repro- 
duce this side of the Greek life, we must do the best 
we can with the limited resources at our disposal. In 
the first place we must avail ourselves of the ex- 
perience of the Greeks by studying their statues. In 
these we get the human form at its best far better 
than we shall ever see it in the life ; so there can be no 


better training in the discrimination of what is healthy 
and beautiful in men and women than a severe course 
of drawings from casts of antique statues. 

But our training must not end there ; we must go 
to work in the same way that the Greeks did, and 
learn to work from living men and women. Unfor- 
tunately, the men and women who are available to us 
as models are mostly of a very inferior type to those 
splendid creatures from whom the Greek statues were 
carved ; still, if we take trouble enough, we can get 
men and women to work from sufficiently well-made 
not to displease even a taste made critical by a study 
of the antique. I think it is never worth while to 
work from models who are positively ugly. It is a 
dangerous thing to the artist to get used to ugliness 
in any form. 

As I have said, it is a mere question of taking 
trouble ; we shall never find the ideal figure, but we 
shall find many figures that do not depart too far 
from what ought always to be our standard the 
Greek statues. 

I am afraid I cannot quit this subject without 
touching upon a prejudice that seems to exist in 
some worthy people against the employment of nude 

In the first place, I assert most positively that 
without study from the nude there is no serious figure 
painting possible. If the artist have conscientious 
objections to this kind of study he must confine him- 
self to landscapes and still life. It matters not what 
kind of figure-pictures he wishes to paint, he will 


never be able to draw the figure properly, whether 
draped or otherwise, unless he has gone through a 
preliminary course of study from the nude. Indeed, 
in any case of difficult draughtsmanship of draped 
figures, it is advisable to put the undraped form upon 
the canvas first and then to add the draperies. This 
is a precaution against error that may not seem 
superfluous to even the most self-confident modern 
painter, when he recollects the studies that exist for 
many of Raffaelle's most celebrated pictures (in- 
cluding the Transfiguration), in which all the figures 
are represented nude. 

Some difficulty exists in the case of ladies who 
are studying art, but I think it may be fairly met by 
the male models being partially draped, as was the 
custom in my time at the Slade School. To some 
well-meaning persons it appears particularly shocking 
that women should study from nude female models. 
I have never been able to understand this view, and I 
am consequently unable to argue the question. Of 
course there is never any necessity for men and 
women to study from the nude model together. 

In conclusion, it may be safely said that there is 
something essentially false and unhealthy in the 
feeling that the human body is in itself indecent and 
objectionable, and the sooner every lover of art gets 
rid of this feeling the better. 

Although it is not strictly within the province of 
this handbook, yet it may be as well to give a few 
hints as to the sort of drawing that is especially useful 
as a preparation to the practice of figure painting. 


In the first place anything like elaborate stippling, 
or, indeed, any finicking work, should be absolutely 
eschewed. The figures should be carefully modelled, 
but the effect should always be got in the simplest 
and broadest way. 

For this reason I strongly recommend that the 
shading should be done with the stump. The eftect 
will be more like that of oil painting than any work 
done with the point could be, and the execution also 
is not dissimilar. It is also a very speedy process 
which is a thing not to be despised ; for, although a 
painter should never be in a hurry, yet he should 
always wish to do his work in the shortest possible 
time. There is too much to learn in painting for 
any man to allow himself to dawdle over it so he 
should never do in ten minutes what he can do equally 
well in five. Of course it must also be recollected 
that he should never do in five minutes what he can 
do better in ten. 

When a sufficient power of drawing has been 
gained in this way, it is as well to do one or two 
paintings from a cast. These paintings should not be 
monochromes that is, black-and-white drawings in 
oil paint but should be true paintings, reproducing 
with great care every variety of shade and colour in 
the cast. It is better that the cast should be an old 
one, so that it is of some definite colour. A quite 
new white cast is a very difficult thing to paint, 
and requires a delicacy in the perception of minute 
differences of colour which it is hardly fair to expect 
in a beginner. For it must be recollected that even a 


white cast is not mere black-and-white : it is sure to 
have colour of some sort, if only that reflected fom 
the surrounding walls. 

As regards colour, any cast is a difficult thing 
to paint indeed, almost as difficult as the human 
figure; but then it has the great advantage of 
not altering its colour, as the human figure is 
apt to do from day to day, and even from hour 
to hour, to say nothing of its remaining quite 

The method of painting should be the same as we 
have already described for our pots and pans ; but 
particular attention should be paid to the blending of 
one tint into another, so that the modelling shall 
appear rounded and delicate. 

When we finally come to painting the human 
figure, we should still persevere with our original 
method; but we must look out very carefully for 
minute differences of tint : and, above all, we must 
pay great attention to the texture. Quite apart 
from the question of colour, any one can see that a 
cast looks as if it were made of a different kind of 
stuff from human flesh : it looks much harder, and 
less transparent ; and this difference should be care- 
fully preserved in our paintings. How, then, shall 
we give the proper texture to our flesh painting ? 
This is chiefly to be done by paying great atten- 
tion to the edges. The outlines of a cast are 
uniformly sharp all over, and should be so painted. 
The human figure, on the other hand, is covered 
with little hairs, too minute to be seen separately, 


except quite close, but sufficiently visible to render 
the outlines soft and blurred. These hairs are much 
more abundant in some places than in others, and 
in some few places they are quite absent. These 
differences should be carefully rendered in all flesh 
painting. For instance, even in women they are 
very abundant on the upper lip, whereas they are 
generally absent along the ridge of the nose. Again 
the human skin is partly transparent, and this in 
itself makes the edges softer than those of a cast. 

In places the colouring of the skin is slightly 
broken and mottled ; this is nearly always the case 
to some extent on the cheeks even in people with 
very good skins. In such places the colour must be 
put on accordingly ; that is, one or two different tints 
should be dabbed on separately, and not smoothed 
too much into one another. Of course, there are all 
sorts of differences of texture in different individuals, 
and they should all be carefully rendered. Wherever 
the skin seems rough, or covered with wrinkles too 
fine to be seen separately, the paint should be put on 
roughly ; and generally in the first painting the brush- 
marks should be so put on as to indicate the general 
direction of any furrows or crinkles in the skin. Hair 
should be painted with a large brush in the first place, 
and every endeavour should be made, by brushing the 
paint on lightly and dexterously, to indicate the lie of 
the separate fibres. Then in the finishing, wherever a 
stray hair or two are seen definitely from a consider- 
able distance, they should be put in separately with a 
writer brush. 


Of course, not much can be done in words to 
explain all the difficulties of flesh painting, but the 
learner must persevere until his picture looks fleshy ; 
if it will not look like flesh he must ask himself why 
it does not, and to such a question, honestly put, he 
can generally find an answer. 

The study of draperies should now be begun in 
good earnest. It is as well, in the first stage of still- 
life painting, to introduce a bit of stuff here and there, 
and carefully study its folds ; but for the systematic 
study of draperies there is nothing like a lay figure. 
It is true that these substitutes for the living model 
should be looked at very askance, and discarded when- 
ever practicable ; but it is too much to ask a beginner 
to paint draperies carefully from a living model who 
is quite certain to disarrange them before an hour has 
passed and, once disarranged, they can never be put 
back again. It is very difficult to draw folds well, 
and it is essential that the beginner should be able to 
work away at them until he has thoroughly rendered 
all their delicacies. Every different kind of stuff goes 
into a different kind of fold, and it is hopeless to try 
to render the texture of draperies without paying 
great attention to the character of the folds. Once 
arranged on the lay figure, they can be studied day 
after day until the student feels that, given sufficient 
time, he can paint any drapery in a satisfactory 
manner. He should then endeavour to shorten the 
necessary time until it is possible to finish simple 
bits of drapery during the short time that the living 
model can keep quiet. Indeed, his constant aim 


should be to acquire such masterly rapidity that 
the lay figure can be dispensed with, and all 
draperies painted from the model ; but the pre- 
liminary practice from the lay figure is indispens- 
able, as giving a standard of accurate work which 
must be preserved with great care, even when the 
conditions are much more difficult. 

Before I quit the subject of figure painting I 
must say a few words on anatomy. 

Now, it is quite possible to overrate the import- 
ance of anatomy to the artist ; no amount of know- 
ledge of bones and muscles can allow us to dispense 
with direct observation of the figure whenever we 
wish to paint it, and this observation of the surface of 
the figure is quite sufficient to enable us to paint it 
well without our troubling ourselves with what there 
is beneath the surface. It is true that when our 
models are poor and ill-defined in form, a knowledge 
of anatomy is of service in enabling us to supple- 
ment their deficiencies ; but, even then, the study of 
antique statues is more valuable, as it is one thing to 
know the shape of a muscle or a bone in themselves, 
and another to know what they look like when 
covered with skin and padded with fat. No one has 
ever equalled the ancient Greek artists in their know- 
ledge of the superficial aspects of the human body, 
but it is certain that they were almost entirely 
ignorant of anatomy. 

At the same time, I will not deny that a study of 
the more obvious facts of anatomy is useful to the 
student, especially in the representation of motion, 
D 2 


where, of course, direct observation of the model does 
not help us much ; but we must always be on our 
guard against letting our knowledge override our 
observation. There is hardly anything in art more 
offensive than an elaborate display of misplaced 
anatomical knowledge, such as figures showing every 
muscle in their bodies, " looking," as Leonardo says, 
"for all the world like bags of walnuts." In fact, 
anatomy is a good servant, but a bad master. Unless 
great care be used it is apt to encourage that (artis- 
tically) pernicious tendency of the natural man to 
represent things not as he sees them, but as he 
imagines they really are. 

The next stage may well be the study of por- 
traiture. This is especially valuable as giving a new 
standard of accuracy ; we have hitherto been content 
to make our pots and pans like pots and pans, 
and our human beings like human beings. Now, 
to make a picture which shall not only be like a 
human being in general, but so like one human being 
in particular that all his friends and relations shall 
agree that it is like htm, demands a much further 
degree of accuracy. 

I shall have something to say on the subject of 
true portrait painting, which is a very difficult and 
highly specialised kind of art; but the sort of portrai- 
ture that I should recommend to the student is a very 
different matter, in which hardly anything should be 
aimed at beyond mere accuracy of resemblance. 
For the purposes of study the sitter should be treated 
as a model, and kept as still as possible, whilst the 


painter's sole endeavour should be to represent him 
as he looks at the moment, without any regard to his 
most characteristic expression, or his most favourable 
aspect. But a good likeness must be aimed at, or 
that special test of accuracy will be missed which 
consists in the picture resembling one particular 
human being, and resembling him so strongly that 
there can be no shadow of a doubt for whom the 
picture is meant. 

Such is, roughly, the course of study that I should 
recommend. It should be persevered with until the 
power has been gained of accurately representing 
anything that will remain still enough to be copied 
directly from nature. If pursued with due earnest- 
ness it will be found very interesting, and although 
to some soaring spirits this humdrum accuracy may 
appear very degrading, it must be recollected that it 
is only a means to an end, and that without a certain 
power of depicting natural objects the most poetic ima- 
ginings must fail to produce their proper pictorial effect. 

It is true that, so far, the student has been pre- 
vented from exercising either his imagination or his 
memory. His painting has been the result of simple 
observation, nothing more. Now, I should never 
think of denying that imagination is a quality to be 
cultivated, and that memory is essential for the paint- 
ing of fleeting effects; but there is a time for all things, 
and these qualities should be kept in abeyance for the 
present, for, if indulged in too early, they can hardly 
fail to be fatal to that habit of accuracy which is the 
foundation of all good painting. 


When this accuracy has become a second nature 
with the painter, then he may, and, indeed, ought, to 
indulge his imagination ; but not before. If he has 
the right stuff in him it will be none the worse for 
keeping ; indeed, there is nothing so deadening to the 
imagination as to try to express it with inadequate 

We will now endeavour to advance a step beyond 
the mere copying of what we see before us. 

The choice of a subject for a picture is one of 
great difficulty. That this is so may be readily in- 
ferred from the fact that the old masters went on 
painting the same narrow range of subjects one after 
another ; while the moderns, in their efforts to be 
original, generally succeed in getting extremely bad 

A really good subject should be in the first place 
interesting ; that is, it ought to arrest our attention 
and set us thinking. It ought, if possible, to be beau- 
tiful, and it ought to more or less explain itself ; that 
is, one should be able to guess at the general nature 
of the incident without having recourse to an elabo- 
rate written explanation. It is true that many fine 
pictures do not fulfil these requirements, but I venture 
to think that they would be still finer if they did. Of 
course the finest subject in the world can only make 
a bad picture if it be badly painted. In fact, the 
finer the subject, the more it is necessary to paint it 
well ; and I hold it to be equally true that a picture 
that is fine in drawing and colouring is a fine picture, 
even if it have no subject at all. 


This latter truth is one not readily recognised 
by the outside public ; but artists are so much im- 
pressed by it, that they will often say that a pic- 
ture is the better for having no subject at all. I 
distinctly differ from this opinion ; but I think that no 
subject is better than a bad one i.e., a radically un- 
pictorial subject, or one that is inadequately treated. 

It is customary to divide subjects into two classes 
historical and genre ; but the line between them is 
very difficult to draw. To my mind the great dis- 
tinction is between modern and non-modern subjects. 

For many reasons modern subjects ought to be 
the best. 

After all, what is going on around us at the pre- 
sent day is more interesting to a healthy mind than 
all the records of the buried past. And again, modern 
subjects have the great advantage that they can be 
so much more truthfully rendered. All historical 
painting is more or less guess-work, and is certain to 
be false in many particulars ; a falsehood which may 
pass muster to-day, but which will probably be found 
out eventually, as historical research advances. 

But then comes another consideration, which 
almost irresistibly drives us back upon the past. 

For one cause or another our modern life is ugly, 
especially the side of it with which the painter comes 
in contact. There probably never has been anything 
so unpictorial since the world began as the ordinary 
appearance of our respectable classes, and it is 
amongst these worthy but unpictorial people that the 
painter mostly dwells. There are still elements of 


picturesqueness to be found amongst the labouring 
classes, but even these are getting scarce. However, 
there is undoubtedly good work to be done here, 
but it must be done thoroughly, and not merely 
looked at from a distance. No one has ever painted 
peasants like Millet did, but then he was a peasant 
himself, and lived amongst them. For the painter 
who can live amongst the common people, and can 
thoroughly enter into their lives and habits, there is 
the possibility of most interesting pictures. Of course, 
for picturesqueness we must go to the rural poor ; but 
even the poor of the great cities afford splendid mate- 
rial for the sympathetic painter for their lives offer 
scenes where pathos or dramatic intensity can amply 
atone for the lack of beauty. But there are not many 
artists who are content to do this, and, indeed, it is 
hardly to be expected of them, for we all love asso- 
ciation with kindred spirits, and whatever virtues 
the poor may possess, an appreciation of art is not 
one of them. Again, there is too much absolute 
ugliness in their lives inbetween the flashes of pic- 
turesqueness, to make living in their midst other 
than painful to a sensitive artist. So for the most 
part we are content to go to history for our sub- 
jects if we have subjects at all, and do not confine 
our art to the painting of single figures of attractive 
young women doing nothing in particular in various 

For one thing, the field of history is so vast that 
it is very odd if we cannot find something in it that 
will suit our taste. 


Are we fond of gorgeous colouring, rich stuffs, and 
costly accessories ? There is the whole of the Middle 
Ages to choose from, culminating in the Italian Re- 
naissance, when perhaps the brilliancy of life attained 
its highest development. Do we love the human 
figure ? We have only to turn to classical times 
and we shall find plenty of subjects which give 
scope to all our draughtsmanship and powers 
of flesh painting. Then, if we wish to paint beau- 
tiful people, untrammelled by any considerations 
of historical accuracy, we can revel in the whole field 
of Greek and Roman mythology. Or if we wish our 
painting to appeal to the most deep-seated feelings 
of our race, we can choose our subject from the Old 
and New Testament which perhaps is the best choice 
for a mediocre painter, who feels that his pictures 
are hardly good enough to be liked for themselves 
alone. But whatever period we choose, and whether 
we treat some well-known historical incident or 
simply confine ourselves to some possible, if unre- 
corded scene, we should spare no trouble to make 
our picture consistent with the best attainable know- 
ledge on the subject. 

Some painters are apt to spare themselves this 
trouble, and think they are giving proof of imagina- 
tion when they are only showing their ignorance ; but 
there can be no excuse for carelessness in this respect. 
There is plenty of scope for imagination in animat- 
ing the dry bones of archaeology. Imagination is 
not antagonistic to knowledge. On the contrary, the 
highest imagination is that which can assimilate all 


kinds of knowledge and make use of it as a vantage 
ground from which to soar to higher things. 

When the subject has been chosen, what is the 
proper course to pursue ? 

Before making the slightest sketch, before even 
thinking of the composition of the picture, the painter 
should familiarise himself with all the surroundings 
of his subject. He should know how the people 
were dressed if they are historical characters, what 
they looked like what were their habits and customs, 
what houses they lived in, what scenery surrounded 
them. Having got fairly clear ideas on all these 
points, he should let his imagination play round the 
subject, until it seems to make some kind of mental 
image. If this mental image appear to be fairly 
well suited for a picture, a rough sketch should be 
made of it in charcoal. Should the image seem 
hopelessly unpictorial, the subject must be turned 
about in the mind until some image of better promise 

When the charcoal sketch has been made, the 
figures should be altered and shifted about until the 
lines of the composition seem fairly satisfactory. 
Then a little coloured sketch should be made, with no 
pretensions to accuracy of any kind, but merely giving 
the rough idea of the colouring and the light and 
shade. This also should be knocked about until the 
result seems promising. Then models should be 
selected with great care as appropriate as possible to 
the personages of the picture. 

It sometimes happens that a model with an 


unsuitable figure will have a suitable face, and vice- 
versA. When this is the case, two models or more 
must be employed for one figure ; but this should 
be avoided if possible. If the figures be in difficult 
positions, or if they be required to represent people 
more beautiful and graceful than ordinary humanity, 
they should be drawn in carefully from the nude 
before any costumes are attempted. If action have 
to be represented, it is as well to make separate 
studies in charcoal. These studies should be as rapid 
as is consistent with a fair amount of accuracy, and 
should keep more closely to the model than is quite 
advisable for the picture. When a satisfactory study 
has been made, it can be copied on to the picture with 
as much added vigour and grace as the draughtsman 
is capable of giving. 

Of course, we must here abandon all idea of 
slavishly copying the model. If action is required 
no model can possibly take up the right position for 
more than a very short space of time, if, indeed, it 
be possible to take it up at all. The artist must get 
an intelligent model, and work as best he can from 
momentary glimpses. He must give the model 
plenty of rest, and trust more to his memory than to 
actual copying. Again, very few models are suffi- 
ciently well proportioned for ideal or classical figures ; 
so the drawings made from them must be corrected 
from a knowledge of the antique. Indeed, it is an 
excellent thing to have a cast or two from really fine 
statues to refer to from time to time, but they will 
not be of much use unless his previous training from 


the antique has well saturated the painter's mind with 
a knowledge of fine proportions. 

Most of the female models of the present day are 
apt to be stumpy, i.e., short in the leg. This must be 
corrected in all figures with any pretension to dignity 
or grace. The fault generally lies chiefly in the lower 
leg, that is, from the knee downwards. 

The requisite costumes must either be hired, or, 
if this be impossible, made for the occasion. There 
are costumiers in London with a very good collec- 
tion of mediaeval and last century dresses. Greek 
costumes are so simple that they had always best 
be made. 

One thing should be recollected in painting 
classical costumes, and that is, that we have derived 
from the statues a very erroneous idea of their plain- 
ness and absence of decoration. 

The vase - paintings and the little terra - cotta 
figures abundantly prove that they were often elabo- 
rately ornamented and brightly coloured. I have 
found myself that questions of Greek and Roman 
costumes are very satisfactorily dealt with in Rich's 
" Dictionary of Antiquities/' which, indeed, in all 
respects, is particularly valuable for the sort of in- 
formation required by artists. 

In anything like elaborate draperies the great 
difficulty arises of how to paint them from the living 
model. Of course the model cannot keep still in- 
definitely, and once folds are disarranged one can 
never get them back again into the same condition ; 
on the other hand, if the draperies be arranged on the 


lay figure, they are sure to look stiff and lifeless. I 
think, wherever it is possible, they should be painted 
from the living model, a bit being finished at a time, 
and then a new bit being taken up after the model 
has rested ; but where the draperies are too elaborate 
to be treated in this manner, they should be roughly 
sketched in from the living model, and then arranged 
in as nearly as possible the same folds on the lay 
figure, from which they should be finished, the main 
lines of the first sketch being scrupulously adhered to. 
The accessories should be painted, wherever it is 
possible, from real objects. Where this is not possible, 
real objects should be selected which somewhat re- 
semble the required forms. With a little practice 
very realistic results may be obtained in this way. 

If the background be a landscape it should be 
painted from an actual study of some, similar scenery, 
aided, if necessary, by photographs of the country 
where the incident takes place. If the background 
be a building, it must be carefully drawn in, according 
to the rules of perspective, with all the architectural 
details taken from the best authorities. In the paint- 
ing the light and shade should be carefully calculated, 
and, when possible, studied from some actual building 
which more or less resembles the ideal one. 

In painting the figures a background should be 
put up behind the model which more or less repre- 
sents the background of the picture, and great care 
should be taken to arrange the lighting of the studio 
so as to resemble the lighting of the picture. This is, 
of course, difficult when the scene is supposed to take 


place out of doors ; but even then it is generally 
possible to paint in a conservatory, or even in a 
garden. But where this is not possible, the painting 
from the model must be modified by observation oi 
how people look out of doors. 

In spite of all these precautions, it is likely enough 
that the picture will miss that air of reality that we 
have striven so hard to impress upon it. Well, if any 
particular part of the picture seem at fault, it must be 
ruthlessly scraped out and painted over again. It will 
at first be found difficult to avoid a patchy effect from 
thus taking out and repainting isolated bits : but a little 
practice will soon prevent the patchiness from being 
at all glaring, and it is certainly hopeless to endeavour 
to paint a picture that will not require alteration. 
When all is done that can be done the picture should 
at least look real. Of course, it may be badly com- 
posed, and entirely dull and unimaginative ; but even 
then it will not be utterly despicable if the individual 
parts be well painted ; and if the imagination be there 
it will strike the spectator the more vividly in that the 
scene looks real. 

It is possible, and indeed very advantageous, to 
combine with the painting of subject pictures some 
other branch of our art, such as portraiture or land- 
scape painting. When portraiture is taken up seriously 
for its own sake, and not merely as a means of study, 
it becomes a very elevated and difficult form of art. 
It is true, it makes no demands on the imagination, 
and the problems it presents are very simple ; but 
from their very simplicity arises a special difficulty. 


How is it possible to make an interesting picture out 
of a commonplace person in the costume of the pre- 
sent day? It must be acknowledged that in some 
cases the problem is hopeless. There are some 
portraits which, at the best, can only be interesting to 
artists on account of their technical merits, but which 
to the general public must be simply ugly and dull. 
But it is seldom, after all, that we come across an 
absolutely commonplace subject; when we do we 
must resign ourselves to it, for it would be contrary 
to the fundamental principles of portraiture to make 
the picture other than commonplace. But we can 
always endeavour to paint it well, and make it like 
and characteristic, and that in itself is no small 

There are one or two general considerations which 
ought to guide us in our treatment of portraits. 

In the first place, the painter has a duty towards 
the people who give him his commissions. He must 
do his best to please them, in so far as he can do so 
without violence to his artistic conscience. That is, 
if they want a profile, he must be prepared to do 
them a profile, even if he should himself prefer to do 
a full-face ; again, they should be given a voice in the 
question of the costume the victim should wear, and 
even, if necessary, as to the sort of expression he 
should put on. Of course, the artist should give his 
advice on all these points, but he need not insist on 
its being followed. After all, he ought to be able to 
paint a good portrait of a man in a uniform as well 
as in a shooting-coat, and most men have different 


expressions at different times, and any expression 
that a man often puts on is fit to be immortalised in 
his portrait. 

But there are some points that the painter should 
be firm about. He should never flatter his sitter ; he 
should paint him at his best, if he can, but that is all. 
He should never make him younger or better looking 
than he is, nor give him an amiable expression if he 
never does anything but scowl, nor put him in a 
graceful attitude if he is essentially ungraceful. 

These things are against the artistic conscience, 
and no amount of entreaty should make the artist 
yield an inch in the direction of flattery ; but when 
there is a legitimate choice of treatment, then the 
family should have their way. After all, it is they 
who have to live with the picture. 

But supposing the choice in all these matters is 
left unreservedly to the painter, what principles ought 
to guide him in the composition of his picture ? The 
main thing to be borne in mind is that the portrait 
must be characteristic. The costume should be one 
that is often worn by the sitter ; the pose must be one 
that he naturally assumes ; the accessories must be in 
accordance with his habits and tastes. His expression 
must also be fairly habitual ; not a mere momentary 
one, which gives no clue to his character. Within 
these limits the painter should endeavour to make his 
sitter and his picture look their best ; that is, he 
should put his sitter in the light and shade which 
best suits him, and should arrange the colouring and 
accessories of his picture so as to produce the most 


harmonious whole. This is a matter of considerable 
difficulty, even in such a simple thing as a portrait ; 
and nearly the whole of the first sitting can be profit- 
ably spent in arranging the picture. Then the artist 
should struggle manfully to prevent his sitter from 
being bored. This is one of the great difficulties of 
portrait painting, and can in most cases be best met 
by encouraging the sitter to talk. Talking to him is 
not nearly so efficacious, besides being much more 
distracting to the artist. If the sitter will not talk, 
the next best plan is to get some one to read to him ; 
but amused he must be at all costs, or the portrait 
will inevitably reflect the patient misery of the sub- 
ject. Nor should the sitter be bullied about sitting 
very still ; of course, he must not be allowed to 
fidget too much, but a man who is always thinking 
of his position can hardly help looking awkward and 
constrained ; and above all, he must be given a rest 
whenever he wants it : and, even if he do not want it, 
he must have one as soon as he looks tired. 

When all is done that can be done, the success of 
the portrait will depend in a great measure on whether 
the sitter be a good subject or not, and unfortunately 
the professed portrait painter can hardly pick and 
choose ; but there is nothing to prevent his looking 
out for interesting sitters amongst his friends and 
acquaintances, and offering to paint them for nothing 
an offer that will seldom be refused. In this way he 
can always be sure of having some interesting por- 
traits to do if he be willing to make some slight 
pecuniary sacrifice. 


Landscape painting can very well be combined 
with the other two branches ; it makes an admirable 
relief to portrait painting, and is a useful training for 
figure pictures, which are too often spoilt by the 
poverty of their landscape backgrounds. 

There are two ways of painting landscape, both of 
which, in competent hands, have yielded admirable 
results. One is to concentrate one's attention on 
evanescent effects ; the other to give, as it were, a 
portrait of a scene in which the effect is subsidiary to 
the rendering of form and local colour. The first, to 
be well done, requires great knowledge and study, 
and is best adapted to the professed landscape 
painter, who can give his whole time to the pursuit. 
The second is more fitted to the portrait or figure- 
painter, who wishes to take up landscape as a relief 
from his other work. Turner's landscapes are typical 
of the one kind, Millais's of the other The methods 
suitable to these two kinds of landscape painting are 
essentially different. The first must necessarily be 
done from studies, most of them very rapid and 
incomplete, aided by memory and knowledge. The 
second kind should be painted entirely on the spot, 
by which means a wealth of detail and a truthfulness 
of colouring can be attained which can never be 
rivalled by studio work. 

If the picture be of any size, a shed should be 
built in which the painter can stand whilst at work. 
The front and one side should be open to give plenty 
of light ; a roof and two sides facing towards the 
prevailing winds will generally be shelter enough. Of 


course, if the roof can have the luxury of a skylight, 
so much the better. The shed can then have three 
walls, being merely open towards the landscape. I 
believe that Millais's landscapes were all painted in 
this way ; at any rate, the best of them were so 
painted, so there can be no doubt as to the possibility 
of producing quite first-rate works by this method, 
which is the one I should recommend to all who 
are not professed landscape painters. 

I need not pursue these practical hints any further. 
I will add a short account of what I have been able to 
gather as to other methods of work, and I will then 
treat of the theoretical principles which underlie the 
whole art of painting, some of which will be found of 
considerable practical utility. 

I will begin my account of some other methods 
of oil painting with the directions drawn up for the 
South Kensington Schools by Mr. Poynter, and 
which, on account probably of their unbending 
character, are called by the students " The Laws 
of the Medes and Persians " : 


Monochrome Painting, 

Colours to be used : Flake White, Raw Umber, Blue Black 
and when the colour of the cast requires them, Yellow Ochre, 
Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna. 
E 2 


Mix up a tint with the palette-knife : 
For the Shadows. 
For the darker Half-tint. 
For the light Half-tints or general colour of the Casts. 

Match the tints with the knife against the cast, so as to get 
the colour as true as possible. The tints must be of the pre- 
vailing colour of the shadow, or half-tints required. 

If there is any quantity of strong reflection in the shadows, 
which contrasts in a marked manner with the cast shadows, mix 
up an additional tint for the reflections. 

N.B. In matching the tints against the cast, the knife must 
be held in the full light between the eye and the cast, but so that 
there shall be no " shine or glare " on the paint. 

If the student is working in the full light of the window, and 
the cast is in the darker part of the room, he must go near to 
the cast to match the tints, or they will be too dark ; otherwise 
he may match them from his place. 

Make a careful outline of the cast in charcoal, and before 
beginning to paint, draw in the outline with a sable brush filled 
with raw umber thinned with turpentine. It is most important 
that the outline shall be finished and correct before beginning to 

The painting should be so done that it should be finished 
at the first painting ; it is therefore necessary that no more 
be begun in the morning than can be completed in the day. 

First lay in the shadows with the shadow-tint, painting a 
little over the line of transition between the light and shade, so 
as to have some colour to paint into. Next to this lay in the 
darker half-tint, painting it into the shadows, but not passing 
beyond the transition line, or the drawing will be lost ; and 
carry this tint as far as necessary toward the light, mixing with 
it some of the lighter half-tints as it graduates towards the 
light, following of course the gradations and drawing of the 

Next cover the lighter parts with the lighter half-tint, and if 
the spaces of highest light be large, mix white with the tint, 
imitating the gradations in the cast. 

Next paint the reflections into the shadows, mixing white, or 


white and yellow ochre, or yellow ochre only, with the shadow- 
tint to lighten it, according to the greater or less degree of 
warmth in the reflection ; and paint in the darker parts of the 
shadow (picking out the forms) by mixing raw umber, black, and 
raw or burnt sienna, with the shadow-tint, following in each case 
the gradations in the cast. 

Next get rid of any too abrupt transition between the 
shadow and the darker half-tint by laying on intermediate 
tints between them, being most careful not to lose the draw- 
ing at this part, which is the most difficult gradation to render 
in the painting. 

In the same way correct any false tones in the half-tints by 
laying on the right colour over the places which are wrong. 

Finally, when the modelling is complete, put on the highest 
lights with a full brush, taking care that the colour used is 
absolutely right. 

If these directions are attended to, and the right tints are 
laid on in the right places, there will be no need to re-touch ; 
and the work may be taken up the next day where it was left 

To prevent an awkward join between the two days' work, do 
not leave off at an outline, but carry the paint a little over the 
edge ; and begin the next day's work with some of the same (or 
exactly similar) colour, painting a little of the edge of the pre- 
vious day's work ; the join will then not be visible. 
No glazing is ever necessary. Use no Medium. 
Use round brushes rather than flat, as it is impossible to 
draw with flat brushes ; but flat brushes may be used to cover 
arge spaces, and are occasionally useful in other cases. 

If the work when dry is entirely wrong, it may be re-painted 
in solid colour, without medium ; but if, when the whole work is 
completed at the first painting, re-touching or more finish is 
necessary, a little oil or other medium rubbed thinly on will 
enable the student to work over in thin colour. 

There is no reason why one painting should not be sufficient, 
as practice will enable the student to produce highly modelled, 
correct, and finished work ; but it must be understood that the 
painting is not to be left rough or unfinished in execution. 


Painting in Colour. 

Proceed exactly as in Monochrome Painting. The colours 
to be used in flesh are : 

Flake White. Burnt Sienna. Raw Umber. 

Yellow Ochre. Light Red. Burnt Umber. 

Raw Sienna. Vermilion. Blue Black. 

Terra Verte and Cobalt may also be used. 

It will be seen at once that my system is merely a 
modification of Mr. Poynter's. Indeed, I have derived 
it directly from his teaching at the Slade School, where 
I was one of his students. Nevertheless, I have some 
criticisms to make on the laws of the Medes and 
Persians, which may serve to show the points of differ- 
ence in the two systems. 

My first criticism is purely verbal. What is de- 
scribed as monochrome painting is nothing of the kind ; 
it is merely the painting of an object which has got 
very little colour in it. True monochrome painting 
is like a drawing : it makes no pretence to reproduce 
the colour of the object depicted. But the essence of 
this system is that the colour should be rigorously 
matched. One of the complaints I have to make 
against the rules is their want of generality. Painting 
a cast is the same sort of thing as painting anything 
else, and does not require directions all to itself; nor 
do I think it good to recommend a special assortment 
of colours for the purpose. It is better that the 
student should always be equipped with his full 
palette. Even in a cast a tint may crop up which 
cannot be properly represented by the limited assort- 
ment of colours recommended by Mr. Poynter, 


The want of generality applies also to the routine 
suggested as to the first laying on of the shadow, &c. 
If the cast be in full light, there is practically no 
shadow; but the painting of an object in full light is 
as valuable an exercise as any other indeed, in some 
ways, more valuable. It is better, in my opinion, to 
give the general rule: that a separate tint should be 
mixed for every considerable patch on the object that 
has a different colour from the rest. Whether this 
difference depends on local colour or on light and 
shade is quite immaterial. 

Another small criticism is that I object to the 
recommendation of round brushes rather than flat. It 
is quite untrue that it is impossible to draw with flat 
brushes, and they have the great advantage that they 
will give a broad or narrow touch according to the way 
in which they are held. With a round brush it is im- 
possible to modify the touch to nearly the same extent 
as with a flat one. 

But my chief criticism concerns the injunction to 
finish a bit at a time. Now, it is quite true that in 
this way a certain freshness of execution is gained 
which is very attractive, but I hold strongly that for 
the student execution is of minor consequence. It 
will be sure to come with practice later on, and can 
fairly be left to take care of itself for the present. If 
the student pay too much attention to his execution 
he is sure to neglect the really important matter, which 
is to secure absolute truth of tone and tint. Now, it 
is very difficult to attain this with one painting, 
especially as it is almost impossible to judge of the 


correctness of isolated tones when the rest of the 
canvas is blank. The great advantage of filling up 
the canvas at once is that then all the tones are seen 
with their proper surroundings. It may be said 
that with the rigorous use of the palette - knife 
the tones are sure to be right, whatever their 
surroundings may be ; and it is quite true that 
they will not be far wrong if the method be pro- 
perly pursued. But, after all, it is rather a rough 
and ready way of securing accuracy : invaluable as lay- 
ing a foundation, but not sufficiently delicate for the 
finishing. To my mind, the true method is to use 
the palette-knife to get a roughly accurate general 
map of the different tones and tints of the object, 
and then to modify this sketch by painting thinly 
over it until a much greater degree of accuracy has 
been gained. But to do this the eye must have every 
advantage. It will never be able to compare accu- 
rately a mere patch of colour in the middle of a white 
canvas with the portion of the object it is intended to 
represent, surrounded by all sorts of colours. Again, 
quite apart from the question of colour, it is too much 
to expect of a student to get his detail and his 
texture quite right at the first painting. He ought to 
aim at it, but he certainly will not achieve it, and he 
must never hesitate to correct anything which seems 
wrong, even at the risk of making his painting look 
messy. But, further, in the painting of pictures, it is 
well known that it is almost hopeless to endeavour to 
arrive at a true general effect by finishing each part at 
a single sitting. As a rule, every bit of it has to be 


worked on again and again until the whole comes 
right. And as this working over and over is very 
difficult to do without getting into a mess, so there 
is every reason that the student should practise it 
from the beginning. 

It is true that there are some painters who do con- 
trive to finish their pictures bit by bit, each part of 
the picture showing only one painting ; but it is im- 
possible to do this with any success without con- 
tinually scraping out bits that are not good enough, 
and painting them over again from the beginning. If 
this be done with great patience and determination, 
the result may be good ; but it will be generally found 
that the picture is patchy, and that freshness of exe- 
cution has been gained at the expense of the far 
more valuable qualities of general truth and of har- 
mony of effect. At any rate, it is beyond dispute 
that the finest pictures have been painted by the other 
process: that of continually working over and over 
until the requisite effect has been gained. 

It may be useful to compare with Mr. Poynter's 
method the one pursued in Paris, at the well-known 
atelier of M. Carolus Duran, an account of which has 
been given me by a friend, and which I will reproduce 
nearly in his own words : 

" The model was posed on Monday, always in full 
light, without shadow effect, and against a strongly- 
coloured background, which we had to imitate exactly 
in its relations to the figure. The figure was drawn 
in in charcoal, then we were allowed to take a sable 
and strengthen the outline with some dark colour 


mixed with turpentine, but not to make any prepara- 
tion, nor put in conventional brown shadows. The 
palette was set as follows : 

" Black, verte emeraude, raw umber, cobalt, laque 
ordinaire, brun rouge or light red, yellow ochre, and 
white (the colours being placed on the palette in this 
order from left to right). 

" We were supposed to mix two or three grada- 
tions of yellow ochre with white, two of light red with 
white, two of cobalt with white, and also of black and 
raw umber to facilitate the choice of tones. 

"We were not allowed any small brushes, at any 
rate for a long time many months or years. 

" On Tuesday Duran came to criticise and correct 
the drawing, or the laying in of the painting if it was 
sufficiently advanced. We blocked in the curtain first, 
and then put in the figure or face in big touches like 
a coarse wooden head hewn with a hatchet ; in fact, 
in a big mosaic, not bothering to soften things down, 
but to get the right amount of light and the proper 
colour, attending first to the highest light. The hair, 
&c., was not smoothed into the flesh at first, but just 
pasted on in the right tone like a coarse wig ; then 
other touches were placed on the junctions of the big 
mosaic touches, to model them and make the flesh 
more supple. Of course, these touches were a grada- 
tion between the touches they modelled. All was 
solid, and there were no gradations by brushing the 
stuff off the lights gently into the darks or vice versa ; 
because Duran wished us to actually make and match 
each bit of the tone of the surface. He came again 


on Friday to criticise, and on that day we finished 

It will be seen that this system bears a consider- 
able resemblance to Mr. Poynter's, the chief differ- 
ence being that M. Duran does not consider it 
advisable to finish each bit at a time, but prefers, as 
in my method, that all the tones should first be 
blocked in very coarsely before any of the finishing 
touches are given. 

Of course there are many other methods practised 
at Paris, but they most of them go on the same 
principle of seeking first of all for absolute truth of 
tone and colour, and getting this truth in the simplest 
and most obvious way. 

I have already mentioned the method pursued by 
Sir John Millais : that of putting the canvas side 
by side with the object, and walking backwards and 
forwards between each touch. Now, in many ways 
this is an admirable method, and is particularly well 
adapted for students, on account of the direct com- 
parison that it gives between the picture and the 
object painted. But it has serious drawbacks; the 
chief of which is that it leads to a certain looseness 
and sketchiness of touch, which is certainly not ad- 
visable for a student, however charming it may be in 
the hands of a master. Every touch that is given by 
this method has to be applied by memory, and not by 
direct observation, for the painter can only see his 
object properly when he is away from the canvas. 
He then walks up to his canvas, puts on his touch, 
and comes back again to see if it be right. As it is 


generally more or less wrong, it has to be corrected until 
it is right. So that the whole process is one of con- 
tinual correction, a process which is hardly compatible 
with great firmness and precision of drawing. At the 
same time, it must always be remembered that if the 
next thing to being right is to be wrong with precision, 
yet it is distinctly better to be right, whether with 
precision or otherwise. 

Another drawback is that the process of walking 
backwards and forwards is so irksome that the painter 
is apt, out of sheer laziness, to stop too long at his 
canvas, and to paint his picture from the view he gets 
of his object when he is quite close to it a fatal 
proceeding, as it is quite impossible to get a good 
general view of an object until one is some way off it. 
Of course a very resolute painter can avoid this 
danger, but human nature is weak, particularly artistic 
human nature. 

So far our methods have been very direct that 
is, they have aimed at painting things at once as we 
see them, without any preliminary preparation beyond 
that of a careful outline drawing. But some artists 
have considered that it is as well to separate the 
difficulties of colour and of light and shade, and to 
attack them separately. There are various methods 
founded on this principle, the most thorough-going of 
which was a good deal practised in England about 
thirty years ago. It was called the Murray method, 
and consisted in modelling the subject very carefully 
in a sort of purplish-grey, called Murray (or mulberry) 
colour. When the modelling was complete the colour 


was added by thin glazings of transparent pigments. 
Of course, the great objection to this method is that 
it is impossible to get anything like really accurate 
colouring by means of it. No glazings can sufficiently 
modify a dark neutral ground to give anything like 
the true intensity of hue that is to be found in a great 
many shadows. 

There is a letter of Sir Joshua Reynolds which 
gives a very good account of such a method. He is 
describing his own practice in 1770, when he was 
forty-seven years old that is, in his prime : 

" I am established in my method of painting. The 
first and second paintings are with oil or copaiva (for 
a medium), the colours being only black, ultramarine, 
and white." " The second painting is the same." " The 
last painting is with yellow ochre, lake, black, and 
ultramarine, and without white, re-touched with a little 
white and the other colours." 

Of course, in the hands of a genius like Reynolds 
a great deal can be done with even an unsatisfactory 
method ; but it must be noted that although a fine 
colourist, he was not by any means a rich one. It is 
also probable that his first painting was very pale, so 
that the dulness of his black and ultramarine was 
easily conquered by the richer colours with which he 
finished his pictures. Much less objection can be 
taken to this system if the palette which is used in 
the first painting is slightly enriched, so that a sug- 
gestion can be given of all the colours of the original. 
The picture, in its first stages, will then be a pale and 
washed-out version of the scene it represents. In the 


later stages the colour is reinforced with all the 
resources of a full palette until the requisite vigour 
and richness has been gained. 

It would seem as if Titian's practice were of this 
kind. In Mr. Hamerton's very interesting and learned 
work on the graphic arts, from which I have already 
borrowed my account of Reynolds' practice, is to be 
found a resume of what Boschini tells us with regard 
to Titian's method. This Boschini knew the younger 
Palma, whose father had received instruction from 
Titian, so it is probable that the tradition handed 
down by him is not very wide of the mark. It seems 
that Titian painted his pictures at first very solidly, 
with a simple palette composed of white, black, red, and 
yellow. There was apparently no blue, but black and 
white make a bluish-grey, which would be sufficient 
to indicate this colour in the first painting. 

Boschini speaks of four pencillings which were 
done in this way, and then the picture was put aside 
for several months. When he took it up again, he 
first amended and corrected all the forms. He then 
finished very laboriously with continual glazings and 
with rubbings of opaque colour, frequently applied 
with the finger instead of the brush. In this way he 
gained the exquisite subtlety and richness of colour 
in which his paintings surpass all others. I shall not 
attempt to criticise a method which has produced the 
finest paintings that the world has ever seen, but I 
certainly think it is too elaborate for a student to 
practise. He should aim at the representation of 
nature in a rather commonplace and obvious way, 


and should keep subtleties of colour and execution 
till the student stage is over. 

Leonardo appears to have laid in his pictures with 
a warm brown, and this also was the practice of 
Teniers and the Dutch painters generally. Now, a 
warm brown is a very pleasant colour in itself, and 
also affords delightful greys when other colours are 
thinly scumbled over it, so that paintings produced in 
this way are generally agreeable in colour ; but they 
certainly do not represent the true variety and rich- 
ness of natural colouring. A grey-bro\vn world may 
be very harmonious, but the actual world we live in 
shows much finer colouring than that. Of course the 
brown ground can be modified to any extent in the 
subsequent painting ; but in practice it is rather apt 
to pervade all pictures painted in this way, and there 
is the additional disadvantage that the groundwork of 
all oil-paintings is apt to become more conspicuous 
with time. That a white ground should shine through 
the colours above it a little more than was originally 
the case is hardly a drawback, and would certainly 
not interfere with the general richness of colour- 
ing ; but with any dark ground the case is different. 
All oil painting has a tendency to grow darker with 
age, and it is obviously unwise to hasten this tendency 
by using a dark ground, which becomes more and 
more conspicuous every year. 

I think it is not necessary to give any further 
details regarding different systems of painting. Any 
one who is curious in the matter can find in Mrs. 
Merrifield's " Treatises on the Arts of Painting/' a 


careful collection of all that is known with regard to 
the methods of the old masters, and it is very odd 
how little is known about them. What accounts we 
have are extremely vague, and mostly contradictory. 
Again, Mr. Hamerton has collected some very in- 
teresting notes as to the practice of some modern 
painters, which can be found in the " Portfolio " for 
the years 1875 and 1876, and again re-written and 
considerably added to in the work I have already 
mentioned, " The Graphic Arts." 

In conclusion, I must utter a word of warning as 
to taking too literally the accounts that artists give of 
their own methods. They always imagine that they 
set to work much more systematically than is really 
the case. As new difficulties arise they invent new 
means to conquer them, and as new difficulties always 
are arising their systems are continually being 
modified. At the same time, it is difficult to do good 
work with a complete absence of system, and there is 
little doubt that an adherence to some kind of definite 
method does very much to simplify the laborious pro- 
cess of learning how to paint. 


So far we have confined ourselves to practical matters ; 
we will now consider the theoretical principles which 
underlie the art of painting. To some people it may 
seem strange to put practice before theory ; I can only 
allege as my justification, that in so doing I am fol- 
lowing the natural order, for no valid theory of any- 
thing has ever been made until we have practically 
found out a good deal about it Nor is it possible to 
thoroughly understand a theory until we are more or 
less familiar with the facts on which it is based. 

There are other people (amongst them many 
artists) who will scout the idea of there being any 
theory of painting at all, and who are exceedingly 
indignant at any search after scientific principles to 
elucidate the hidden ways of art. Fortunately, this 
attitude is becoming less common as science in general 
is becoming better understood. After all, science is 
neither more nor less than knowledge, and there are 
few people now-a-days who will maintain that we shall 
do anything the better the less we know about it. 

In the first part I have thus stated the problem set 
before the student: " Every natural object appears to 


us as a sort of pattern of different shades and colours ; 
the task of the artist is so to arrange his shades and 
colours on his canvas that a similar pattern is pro- 

We will now consider this matter a little more 
closely. In what does the sense of sight consist ? 

Unfortunately, to answer this question, I must 
refer, however briefly, to the constitution of the 

It is generally held by people who are qualified to 
have opinions on the subject, that matter consists of 
exceedingly small particles, not close to one another, 
but with spaces in between, and that these spaces are 
filled by an all-pervading something, called the ether, 
which is, perhaps, made up of still smaller particles, or 
is, perhaps, structureless. We do not know much 
about the ether, but we do know that it can vibrate, 
and that vibrations travel through it with extreme 
rapidity. It is these vibrations (or, rather, some oi 
them) that constitute what we call light. Now, our 
eyes are an apparatus which is so arranged as to be 
affected by these vibrations : that is to say, they set 
up some kind of agitation in the nerves which end in 
the retina, and when this agitation reaches a certain 
portion of the brain a sensation is excited which we 
call sight. 

It has been said that the ether fills up the spaces 
between the particles of matter; it is the motion of 
these particles that sets up the vibrations in the ether. 
These particles are never actually at rest, but are 
always vibrating to and fro. When anything is 


hot we imagine that the particles are vibrating very 
rapidly ; waves of corresponding rapidity are trans- 
mitted through the ether, and when these waves reach 
our skin they produce that state of our nerves that 
we call the sensation of heat. 

When the rapidity is very great the ether vibra- 
tions are capable of exciting the nerves of the retina ; 
we then have the sensation of light. As regards the 
vibrations of the ether, light and heat are essentially 
the same ; the difference lies in the apparatus that 
perceives them. It is only waves within certain defi- 
nite limits of rapidity that excite the retina, and even 
within these limits the excitement is different for 
different degrees of rapidity. The slowest visible 
waves excite the sensation of red, the fastest visible 
waves excite that of violet, and the colours generally 
follow the degrees of rapidity in this order : Red, 
orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. 

It is by means of this different perception of the 
different luminous waves that we are enabled to dis- 
tinguish colours. Later on I may be able to explain, 
to a certain extent, the mechanism by which colour is 
perceived, but the bare facts are enough for the 

To return to the ether waves. When these are 
set in motion by a body vibrating very quickly, or, as 
we generally call it, a self-luminous body, they travel 
with extreme rapidity in a perfectly straight line 
until they meet some other body. If this body be 
transparent, they pursue their course through it, either 
in the same straight line or with a certain amount of 

F 2 


deviation, in which latter case they are said to be 
refracted ; if, on the other hand, the body be opaque, 
some of them rebound from it, or, as we say, are re- 
flected from its surface. If the surface be smooth, 
they are reflected in a definite direction; if the surface 
be rough, they are reflected in all directions. It is 
by means of these reflected rays that we see those 
objects that are not self-luminous. Even transparent 
objects reflect some rays, and it is by these reflected 
rays that they are seen. In all cases there are some 
rays which are neither reflected nor refracted, but are 

It is very instructive to notice the totally different 
effects produced by the same rays on the nerves of 
touch and on those of vision. I say the same rays, 
as, although a good many of the heat rays are in- 
visible, yet all the visible rays are, to a certain extent, 
heating, and some of them, at least, can be recognised 
as hot by the skin, provided they are concentrated 
upon it sufficiently. 

The difference depends on two causes. In the 
first place, the optic nerve, however stimulated, gives 
rise to a totally different sensation to that given by 
the nerves of touch. The optic nerve can be excited 
in many ways: by a blow, by a galvanic current, by a 
rush of blood in its own blood-vessels, or by ether 
waves of a certain rapidity; but whatever the means 
employed, any excitement of the optic nerve gives 
rise in the sensorium to the sensation of light. It 
can only speak one language, and that language is 
quite different from the one spoken by the nerves of 


touch. In the second place, there is a special and 
very delicate apparatus by which the optic nerve is 
enabled to distinguish between ether waves which 
differ in rapidity, in intensity, or even in direction. 
There is nothing in the skin which is at all equivalent 
to this special apparatus, so that the messages given 
by the skin nerves are very vague and indefinite in 
comparison with those given by the retina. 

It may be as well to give some slight description of 
this apparatus. 

The best way of making it intelligible is to com- 
pare it to some instrument which is well known, and 
of which the mechanism can be readily investigated. 
We all know what a photographic camera is like : it 
consists essentially of a dark box with a lens or group 
of lenses at one end of it, which throws an inverted 
image of the scene in front of it on to a ground-glass 
screen, which closes the box at the other end. It is 
not easy to explain the action of a lens without the 
aid of diagrams, but it may be sufficient to say that 
the convex lens, which is the one that is used in a 
camera, has the property of making all rays that 
strike on it from a point outside it converge again at 
a certain distance to a similar point on the other side 
of it. The result of this is that every point of the 
natural object to which the camera is turned is repro- 
duced in a similar point on the ground-glass screen, 
and as the relative position of all these points remains 
unchanged, the image on the screen, although upside 
down, is a faithful representation of the object outside 
that is, if the screen be at the proper distance from 


the lens ; at any other distance the image appears 
blurred. This proper distance is obtained by moving 
the lens backwards and forwards until the image on 
the screen appears sharp and clear. The eye is merely 
a kind of camera, having an arrangement of lenses, 
which throws an image of the scene outside it on to 
a sort of screen, called the retina. It also has a 
mechanism by which sharpness of focus is obtained, 
but by different means from those employed in the 
photographic camera. Instead of altering the distance 
between the lens and the screen, the actual shape of 
the principal lens is altered, becoming more convex 
for objects near the eye, and less convex for distant 
objects. The screen, or retina, that receives the image 
is formed by the ends of the various fibres of the 
optic nerve. These fibres end quite differently from 
the fibres of any other nerve ; they seem to spread out 
into a uniform layer, composed of minute bodies called 
the rods and cones names which roughly describe 
their appearance. This layer of minute structures 
forms the essential part of the retina, and it so far 
answers to the ground-glass plate of the photographic 
camera that a minute inverted picture of the scene in 
front of the eye is thrown upon it by the arrangement 
of lenses with which the eye is provided. The way in 
which this picture is perceived by the brain remains a 
mystery, for indeed the transition from the outside 
world to our own sensations is, in every case, in- 
explicable ; but we must take it roughly that the brain 
receives a mental picture, which is so far equivalent 
to the picture on the retina that it is enabled to infer 


from it the proper position and luminosity of the 
objects outside the eye. 

But here we are confronted by a special difficulty : 
we not only see that one object occupies a different 
position in the field of vision from others, and that it 
differs from others in intensity of illumination, but it 
also differs from them in quite another way ; that 
is, in colour. 

Now, this third difference is particularly puzzling, 
for there is nothing, so far as we know, in the rays 
of light to account for it. 

These rays differ amongst themselves solely in 
energy (amplitude of swing) and in rapidity of vibra- 
tion : that is to say, the rays which excite the 
sensation of green are just the same as those that 
excite the sensation of red, except that they are 
vibrating a little more rapidly. Now, the sensation of 
red is so entirely different from the sensation of green 
that we should expect some corresponding difference 
in the ether waves that cause these sensations. What 
adds to the difficulty is that colours have various 
peculiarities, to which, again, nothing seems to answer 
in the physical constitution of light ; for instance, 
three of the colours, such as red, green and violet, 
appear to be simple, whilst others, such as yellow, 
purple and grey, are compounds of two or more of 
these simple colours. Again, there are some people 
(called colour-blind) who can see the forms of objects 
perfectly and some of their colours, but who are 
insensible to other of the colours generally to red. 
In fact, the whole system of colour sensation seems to 


be very complicated, whilst the differences in the 
ether waves are very simple. 

This puzzle is so difficult to solve that Helm- 
holtz (the greatest living authority on the subject) 
acknowledges that he was unable to frame any theory 
that would in the least account for it, until he met 
with an entirely satisfactory explanation in the works 
of Thomas Young, an Englishman, who flourished at 
the beginning of this century, and to whom is due 
the glory of having firmly established the undulatory 
theory of light. 

Helmholtz remarks that he was one of the keenest 
intellects that ever lived, but he had the misfortune to 
be too much in advance of his contemporaries, so 
that many of his finest discoveries lay buried in the 
archives of the Royal Society until they were labori- 
ously re-discovered by a younger generation. Amongst 
other causes that contributed to the general neglect 
with which the labours of this great man were treated 
in his own time must be reckoned a savage and, un- 
fortunately, successful onslaught by Henry Brougham, 
who afterwards became Lord Chancellor a man of 
very inferior capacity to Young, but of infinitely 
greater pretensions. 

The theory of colour in particular had sunk into 
profound oblivion, until Helmholtz came across it in 
the course of his omnivorous reading, and was at once 
struck with the completeness of the solution that it 
gave to the riddle that had puzzled him so long. 
Having lent it the authority of his great name (fortu- 
nately undimmed by the strictures of any German 


chancellor), it is now almost universally accepted by 
the scientific world. 

As this theory is of great importance to the artist, 
I will do my best to expound it. Since the time -of 
Newton it has always been held that there are only 
three simple or primary colours, and that all the 
others are merely mixtures of these simple colours. 
According to Newton, the three primary colours are 
red, yellow, and blue. He seems to have arrived at 
this result chiefly by experiments on the mixture of 
pigments. But unfortunately, the mixture of pig- 
ments is a very different thing from the mixture of 
light of different colours. There are many ways of 
producing a true mixture of coloured lights ; perhaps 
the simplest is by using what is called a colour top. 
We slip on to an ordinary top little discs of card- 
board. By painting half the disc of one colour and 
the other half of another, and then making it spin 
round, we see nothing but an uniform tint, which is 
the true mixture of the two colours. If we try a 
mixture of blue and yellow in this way, we get not 
green, but a kind of grey. By experiments conducted 
in this and similar ways we have now found out that 
the true primaries are red, green, and violet, by a 
mixture of which all the other colours can be pro- 
duced. Yellow is formed by a combination of red 
and green, blue by a combination of green and violet, 
and purple by a combination of violet and red. These 
are the so-called secondary colours. By mixing all 
three primaries together in certain proportions we get 
white or grey. By mixing the three primaries in 


other proportions, we get the so-called tertiaries, 
such as russet, olive, &c. 

It may startle those who are only accustomed to 
the mixture of pigments to hear that blue and yellow 
light do not produce green, but grey or white, accord- 
ing to the intensity of the illumination. That this is 
so can be readily proved by the experiment mentioned 
above and by many others. But why do blue and 
yellow paint produce green ? To answer this we 
must explain how it is that pigments produce their 
different colour- effects they do so by absorbing 
certain colours from the white light that reaches them, 
whilst the colours that remain unabsorbed are reflected 
back to the eye, and produce the special colour-effect 
of the pigment. 

The question of the mixture of pigments is very 
much complicated by the fact that none of the pig- 
ments in use represent any pure colour. When 
examined by the spectroscope they are found to 
reflect light of many different colours, their whole 
effect being the average of these different hues. Now, 
take the case of a blue pigment such as cobalt. The 
blue paint absorbs most of the red, orange and yellow 
waves, reflecting back to the eye the green, blue, and 
violet, so that the result is a general impression of 
blue. Again, take a yellow pigment, which absorbs 
the blue and violet waves, reflecting back the red, 
yellow, and green. A mixture of these two will 
absorb, more or less, every colour except green, which 
will be, therefore, the dominant tint of the mixture. 

It must here be remarked that colours differ from 


one another in three quite distinct ways. Firstly, in 
tint i.e., all shades and varieties of red are different 
from all shades and varieties of green. Secondly, in 
luminosity a light red is different from a dark red. 
Thirdly, in what is called saturation that .is, one red 
can be much more red than another, quite inde- 
pendently of its luminosity. When we speak of a 
full, rich, intense tint, we mean what, in scientific 
language, is called a saturated colour. So that to 
properly define a colour, we must bear these three 
qualities in mind. Take any given colour, such as 
the hue of a primrose. In the first place it is yellow, 
in the second place it is light, in the third place it is 
not very saturated : that is, the hue is a light yellow of 
but slight intensity. 

It will be seen from all this that the whole system 
of colour, as we perceive it, is a very complicated 
affair ; but, as I have already pointed out, there are 
no such complicated differences in the ether waves, 
which undoubtedly give rise to the sensations of 
colour. They only differ in rapidity and in intensity. 
There is absolutely nothing that corresponds to the 
difference between the primaries and the secondaries. 
Nor can we understand, from a consideration of the 
properties of the ether waves, how it is that one 
colour should differ from another not only in degree, 
but absolutely in kind. The cause of these complica- 
tions must be sought for, not in the physical proper- 
ties of light itself, but in the instrument which 
perceives it. In the same way that ether waves 
which are physically identical give rise to the quite 


different sensations of heat or light, according as they 
stimulate the skin nerves or the optic nerve so are 
also the waves which strike the retina perceived in dif- 
ferent ways, according to the different structure of the 
apparatus which they affect. Young's theory is briefly 
this : that the retina is supplied with three different 
kinds of nerve-fibres. The one kind is chiefly stimu- 
lated by the longer light waves, and, when stimulated, 
gives rise to the sensation of red ; another responds 
to the light waves of middling length, and gives rise 
to the sensation of green ; the third responds to the 
shortest visible waves, and gives rise to the sensation 
of violet. 

We have said that each kind is chiefly stimulated 
by the shock of waves of a certain length, but they 
also respond in a lesser degree to all the visible 
waves. For instance, the red-seeing fibres are chiefly 
excited by the longest visible waves, but they also 
respond somewhat to the shorter ones, whilst the 
green-seeing fibres not only respond to the waves of 
middling length, but are also slightly affected by the 
longer and shorter waves. So that waves of an inter- 
mediate length can excite equally two sets of nerves. 

When two sets of nerves are excited, either by 
these intermediate waves or by a mixture of waves of 
different lengths, one of the secondary or mixed 
colours is perceived. When all three are equally 
excited, we have the sensation of white or grey, 
according to the intensity of the excitement. When 
they are unequally excited, we perceive one of the 
tertiary colours, 


Simple as this theory is, it is, nevertheless, capable 
of explaining most of the puzzling anomalies of colour 

For instance, take the curious defect called colour- 
blindness. A colour-blind man has, apparently, per- 
fect vision for form, and light and shade ; he can also 
distinguish some colours quite correctly, whereas 
others he mixes up in the most hopeless manner. As 
a general rule, the reds are the stumbling-block of the 
colour-blind. A full rich scarlet appears to them 
almost black, as is evidenced by the well-known story 
of the Scotch minister, who selected a brilliant scarlet 
cloth for his coat under the impression that it was a 
nice quiet colour. Such people can see blues, greens, 
and violets very well, but a bluish - green generally 
appears to them nearly colourless. So that they 
cannot distinguish between the leaves and the flower 
of a scarlet geranium, nor between the red and green 
lights used on railways which latter is a matter of 
considerable practical importance. The colour of 
these objects would appear to them the same ; they 
would only differ in luminosity. 

Young's theory gives a very complete explanation 
of these peculiarities. We have only to suppose that 
the particular nerve-fibres which respond to the stimu- 
lus of the longer waves are absent or paralysed, and 
we at once have a sufficient cause for the non-percep- 
tion of red. The green and violet-seeing fibres would be 
in full operation, and these would be amply sufficient 
for the perception of form, and light and shade, ex- 
cept that all red objects would appear too dark and 


quite colourless. If the green and violet-seeing fibres 
were simultaneously excited, as they would be by 
light of a green-blue tinge, the sensation of white or 
grey would be produced, exactly as in the normal 
eye the sensation of white is produced by the simul- 
taneous excitement of all three sets of fibres. 

This is the ordinary form of colour-blindness. In 
some rare cases one of the other sets of nerves seems 
to be deficient, thus giving additional confirmation to 
our theory. 

It will be observed that as light of any definite 
wave-length not only excites its own proper set of 
nerves, but also to a much less degree the other two 
sets, it follows that all our colour sensations must be 
a little mixed : that is, we cannot see red without some 
slight admixture of green and violet, nor can we see 
green without- some slight admixture of red and 
violet, and so on. That is, under ordinary circum- 
stances we never get a quite pure colour-sensation. 
Here, again, the theory is strikingly confirmed ; but to 
show in what way, we must refer to a very curious set 
of phenomena which we have not yet touched upon. 
Nerves, like muscles, are easily fatigued ; the stronger 
the stimulus the greater the subsequent exhaustion. 
To this rule the nerves of the eye are no exception. 
After we have been out of doors in strong sunshine 
for some little time, the retina loses all power of re- 
sponding to a moderate amount of light, so that it 
from the sunlight we step into a dark, feebly-lighted 
room at first we can see nothing. The retina is too 
tired to respond to a feeble stimulus, but in a very 


short time it recovers from its fatigue, and every 
object in the dark room becomes visible. But not 
only can the whole retina become fatigued, separate 
parts of it can also be temporarily paralysed. If we 
look at some small light object on a dark ground for 
some time, without letting the gaze wander, and then 
look away on to some grey, moderately lighted 
expanse, we shall see an image of the former 
scene, with the light and shade reversed that is, 
the light object will appear dark, whereas the dark 
background will appear light, like a photographic 

The explanation of this appearance lies entirely in 
local fatigue of the retina ; the part which received 
the image of the bright object has been so worn out 
by the over-stimulus that it cannot respond to the 
moderate light received from the grey expanse at 
which it is now looking, so that a dark spot is per- 
ceived corresponding in shape and area to the 
fatigued part of the retina. The rest of the retina, 
however, has been rested by looking at the dark back- 
ground, so that when the gaze is turned away the 
moderate light it now receives is sufficient to excite it 
strongly. It is obvious that for the success of this 
experiment it is necessary that the eye should be 
steadily fixed upon the bright object, otherwise if the 
gaze be allowed to wander, successive portions of the 
retina will be fatigued in turn. It is not advisable 
that the light object should be too bright, white paper 
is quite bright enough. A brighter object produces 
so much excitement on the retina that a different 


series of effects are produced ; besides, too great a 
stimulus can be very injurious. 

But not only can separate portions of the retina 
be excited, but also separate nerve-elements, so that 
it is quite possible to fatigue the red-seeing nerves 
(for instance) without the "others. 

If we look for some time fixedly at a bright red 
object and then transfer our gaze to a piece of grey 
paper we shall see a blue-green image of the object. 
The explanation of this is that the red-seeing nerves 
of one part of the retina have been temporarily para- 
lysed by fatigue, so that the light coming from the 
grey paper, which, under ordinary circumstances, 
would stimulate equally all three sets of nerves, has a 
much greater effect on the green and violet-seeing 
fibres than on the others, so that the predominant 
perception in this part of the retina is of a greenish- 

This suggests to us a means by which we can see 
colours in a much purer state than we can ever do 
under ordinary conditions. Our ordinary perception 
of the strongest red is mixed with sensations of green 
and violet chiefly of green, as the longest waves 
have the least effect upon the violet-seeing nerves. 

If we can in any way paralyse these two sets of 
nerves, we shall be able to have an almost pure 
sensation of red. 

To achieve this object we look at that portion of 
a solar spectrum where the green fades into the blue. 
After gazing at it steadily for some time we turn 
our gaze to the red end of the spectrum, and perceive 

THEORY. 8 1 

a red such as we have never seen before, for it is now, 
for the first time, unmixed with green and violet. 

All these curious phenomena and many others 
are perfectly explained by the Young theory of 
colour, and no other theory gives anything like a 
rational explanation of them ; so we need not scruple 
to adopt it as true, at any rate in its main outlines, 
although anatomical research has not as yet confirmed 
its fundamental assumption that of the three nerve- 
fibres. But even here some slight confirmation is not 
wanting, for in reptiles and birds, though not in 
mammals, some traces have been found of the requi- 
site differences in the retinal elements. 

I trust that in this brief sketch I have given some 
slight idea of this beautiful theory. I must refer 
those who would like to make a further acquaintance 
with it either to Helmholtz's great work, the " Physio- 
logische Optik," or, if they are unacquainted with 
German, to two papers in his popular scientific 
lectures, which have all been translated into English. 
There is also an excellent work on the subject in the 
International Scientific Series, " Modern Chromatics," 
by Professor Rood. 

Hitherto we have been concerned with the appara- 
tus which perceives colour, we will now consider the 
question in its more general aspect that is, the differ- 
ences in natural objects which make them appear to 
us of different colours. These differences are solely 
differences of wave-length. Objects which send to 
us ether waves of a certain length appear to us red, 
others which send shorter waves appear to us green, 


and so on. If an object send to us, as is nearly 
always the case, a number of waves of different 
lengths, then the colour-sensation depends on the 
average effect produced by all the different waves. 

Our usual source of light (except in London) is 
the sun. Sun-light may be said, roughly speaking, 
to be composed of all the visible waves in such pro- 
portions that it produces the sensation of white. 

Ordinary daylight, when direct sunlight is not 
visible, is simply sunlight reflected either from the 
minute water-globules which constitute clouds, or 
else from the still more minute particles which we 
perceive as the blue sky. It also produces the general 
sensation of white, although usually a white that is 
colder or more inclined to blue than sunlight. The 
sun's light, or this reflected daylight, or the light 
of any self-luminous body, is also reflected from 
all natural objects, and it is in this way that we see 
them. But as a general rule it is not reflected in the 
same proportions in which it is received. Nearly all 
coloured objects owe their colours to the fact that 
they only reflect some of the waves of light, absorbing 
or transmitting the others. So that the selected 
waves that are reflected from them do not excite the 
three nerve- elements equally, and, as we have seen, 
any unequal excitation of the retinal elements gives 
rise to the sensation of colour. Our artists' pigments 
are bodies which have this property of absorbing some 
of the rays of light and reflecting others. Our white 
paint absorbs very few rays and absorbs these equally, 
so that light is reflected from it practically unchanged. 


Our red pigment absorbs many more rays, chiefly of 
the shorter kind, so that the ones it reflects are mostly 
the longer ones. Our blues, on the other hand, 
absorb mostly the longer waves, and so on. A black 
pigment is one of great absorbent power, so that 
very few rays are reflected from it. 

We are now in a position to understand how it is 
that an arrangement of differently-coloured pigments 
on a canvas can so thoroughly represent a natural 
scene. To our eyes a natural scene is nothing more 
than a pattern of colours produced by the varying 
absorption and illumination of natural objects. Our 
painted canvas can give just the same absorption of 
colours, and can represent the varying illumination by 
pigments which reflect more or less light to the eye. 

But here comes a difficulty. Can it represent the 
same intensity of light and shade that the natural 
scene gives ? In many instances it certainly cannot. 
Let us take the case of a picture representing a sunlit 
landscape. We will suppose it hangs on the wall of 
a room. It is obvious that its highest light is only 
white paint illuminated by the moderate light that 
enters an ordinary room. This must surely be many 
times darker than, say, a white stone, on which the 
sunlight falls in the real landscape and yet it cer- 
tainly looks like sunlight. To bring out the difficulty 
more clearly, we will suppose that there hangs side 
by side with this picture another representing a moon- 
lit scene. 

In this also a white object would be represented 
by white paint, with perhaps a slightly bluish tinge. 
G 2 


At any rate, the two white objects in the two pictures 
would be represented as of almost equal luminosity, 
and yet we know that sunlight is many times more 
powerful than moonlight. Indeed, it is much more 
so than we think. According to Wollaston, who 
made direct photometrical observations, sunlight is 
about 800,000 times stronger than moonlight. And 
yet in our pictures we paint them almost of equal 
strength ! The very surprise with which we hear of 
this enormous difference puts us on the track of the 
solution of the puzzle. As a matter of fact, we are in 
the habit of disregarding differences of total illumina- 
tion. What is important to us is to know the con- 
stant unvarying qualities of bodies, not their accidental 
differences which vary from one moment to another. 
To distinguish one object from another it is very 
important to know their relative colours and lumin- 
osities ; that is, that under any illumination a red 
object is redder than a blue one, and a white object is 
lighter than a black one. This tells us something of 
importance, and enables us to recognise different 
bodies under all sorts of circumstances ; but that a 
sheet of white paper is so many thousand times 
lighter in sunlight than in moonlight, is of no import- 
ance to us whatever under ordinary circumstances, so 
we habitually disregard it. And this is not only a 
matter of habit, but it is a necessary consequence of 
the structure of our eyes. 

As we have said, the retina gets very easily 
fatigued, and in this state only responds to stimuli of 
great intensity; whereas in a condition of rest it is 


easily excited by very faint stimuli. For instance, 
we go out of doors into the full sunlight. At first 
everything seems one blinding glare, but in a very 
short time the retina gets dulled, and is no more con- 
scious of any excess of light. The lights are no 
longer blinding, and the shadows seem strong and 
dark, although the shadows of a sunlit landscape are 
generally much brighter than any light inside a room, 
unless the sunlight enters it. If we now leave the 
sunshine and go into some dimly-lighted room, a con- 
trary effect is produced, to which we have already 
alluded. At first the tired retina refuses to respond 
to the feeble stimuli given by the objects in the room, 
and everything seems dark ; but in a very short time 
the retina recovers, and any light object shines out 
with an intensity that seems quite brilliant to the 
rested eye. So that not only do we disregard great 
differences of illumination as being unimportant to 
us, but also the structure of our eye prevents us from 
truly perceiving them. 

We will now go back to our two landscapes. The 
white in the sunny picture strikes upon an eye that 
has not been dulled by exposure to the sunlight, so 
that its want of real illumination is compensated by 
the increased acuteness of the retina. But this acute- 
ness is not nearly so great as it would be if the eye 
had only been exposed to the much feebler light of 
the moon. So that the moonlit landscape, striking 
upon a comparatively inert eye, does hardly seem 
brighter than the actual scene would seem to the 
highly sensitive eye, that would naturally behold it. 


But if both the landscapes are equally luminous, 
how is it that we can see at once that one is meant 
for moonlight and the other for sunlight ? 

The answer to this is very interesting. 

In the first place it is only the brightest objects of 
both that we paint with our strongest light. In the 
sunny landscape we paint all the objects that are 
moderately illuminated almost as bright as the highest 
light, reserving our darks only for the few really deep 
shadows. In the other it is only the very brightest 
objects that we paint bright at all. The moderately 
illuminated ones are all merged in the shadows. And 
this corresponds to a real difference in our perceptions 
of intense and slight illuminations. In a sunlit scene 
all objects that are not actually in shadow seem 
almost equally bright. In a moonlit scene all objects, 
except the brightest, seem almost equally dark. 

There is another difference of almost equal import- 
ance. The general colour of the sunny landscape will 
be warm that is, inclined to the reds and yellows 
whereas the general colour of the other will be cold 
that is, inclined towards blue and violet and this will 
be the case even when they represent the same scene. 
The difference of colour will, at once, suggest the 
difference of illumination. And yet moonlight is 
merely reflected sunlight. How can we account for 
its looking so much colder ? 

Here we must have recourse to Young's theory. 
It would seem that the three sets of nerves do not re- 
spond quite equally to light of different intensities. 
That is, white light of great intensity has most effect 


on the red-seeing nerves and least on the violet-seeing 
ones, so that sunlight appears to us of a slightly orange 
tone, whereas white light of feeble intensity has most 
effect on the violet-seeing nerves and least on the red, 
so that moonlight, although it sends to us light of the 
same average wave-length as sunlight, appears to us 
of a bluish tinge. 

There is a simple experiment which brings this 
out clearly : If we take two pieces of paper, and 
colour one of them red and the other blue, so that in 
a room they appear of the same brightness, and then 
take them out into the sunlight, the red will appear 
lighter than the other. By moonlight the blue will 
appear much lighter than the red. 

It is chiefly by paying attention to these two prin- 
ciples that our two landscapes look right in spite of 
their falsity of illumination. 

The latter principle will explain how it is that a 
landscape, which is painted out of doors, is apt to 
look cold when it is brought indoors. It should 
always be recollected that, other things being equal, 
the stronger the illumination the warmer the picture 
will look. 

There is a very important practical lesson which 
can be drawn from the ready adjustment of the retina 
to different degrees of illumination. It is well known 
that one of the great difficulties in painting is to get 
breadth (as it is called) ; that is, to avoid bringing out 
too clearly unimportant details. As we say, we see 
too much. We have to learn not to paint all we see. 
It is not generally known that the cause of this 


difficulty is not so much mental as physical. We really 
do see more when we look for some time at each 
separate detail than when we look at the scene as a 
whole, and this is not so much a result of increased 
attention as of adjustment of the retina to the par- 
ticular degree of light given out by each separate part 
of the scene. For instance, we are looking at a sunlit 
landscape, in the foreground of which is a white stone, 
which is the brightest object of the scene. When we 
look at the view as a whole, the stone merely appears 
to us as a mass of dazzling white ; but if we fix our 
gaze upon the stone, in a very short time it ceases to 
dazzle us, and we are able to see all sorts of little 
markings and varieties of tint upon it. The retina has 
become dulled to just the proper degree at which it 
can best see the stone. But should the painter repre- 
sent it with all these markings ? Certainly not, for 
his object is to represent the scene as it appears to a 
casual spectator that is, he must paint his stone as he 
sees it when he first glances at it, not as it appears 
when he has been gazing at it for some time. Again, 
if he have in the same landscape to paint a log of 
wood lying in the shade: when he looks at it with 
his eye dimmed with the general sunlight it appears 
simply a brown mass, but, after gazing at the shade 
for some little time (as he will have to do if he wish 
to paint it), his eye will become rested, and will see all 
sorts of detail in the log, which he must resolutely 
refuse to paint. 

This constitutes a very real difficulty, for it 
obliges us to run counter to the most wholesome 


instinct that an artist can have viz., to paint what 
he sees. It applies also, though in a less degree, to 
objects painted in a studio light. The best practical 
way to get over the difficulty is never to keep the 
eyes fixed for long on the detail that one is painting, 
but to continually look away and endeavour to get a 
true idea of the scene as a whole. 

We are now in a better position to examine the 
question of how far a picture can truthfully represent 
a natural scene. Even from the slight sketch I have 
given of the theory of vision, it is abundantly evident 
that in all essentials the impression received on the 
retina from a picture can be identical with the im- 
pression received from the scene that it depicts. 

Here, however, the question suggests itself, how is 
it that we know at once the difference between a 
picture and the reality ? I have little doubt that, as 
a rule, we know a picture to be a picture, because it is 
hanging up on a wall or standing on an easel, or, at 
any rate, visibly disconnected from the scene around 
it. Indeed, under certain circumstances, it can very 
well be mistaken for the reality. 

If a glimpse be caught of a portrait in a possible 
place for a person to be in, it can very well be taken 
(at any rate, at first sight) for a living being. This 
especially holds good in the case of a portrait seen in 
a looking - glass, and particularly if only a small 
piece of it be seen, for in a looking-glass we are 
accustomed to see a bit of a person cut off from all 
its surroundings. 

There is a story that Philip IV. of Spain came 


into the studio of Velasquez, and seeing there a 
portrait of a certain admiral, believed it to be the 
admiral himself, and rated him soundly for being at 
Madrid at a time when his duties were far away. Of 
course this story may be untrue, especially as it is a 
matter of history, but it is not in any way im- 

Again, I recollect noticing myself that in the 
celebrated panorama of the Siege of Paris, exhibited 
in the Champs Elysees, that it was very difficult to 
see where the earthworks, which were actually built 
up round the spectator, and on which real objects 
were strewn about, merged into the painted back- 
ground. In one place there were two cannons, side 
by side one was real and the other was painted 
and, at first sight, both looked equally real. 

But we must not carry this too far ; the possibility 
-of actual deception only exists in the case of large 
pictures seen at a considerable distance. When 
pictures are looked at more closely there is a definite 
discrepancy between them and solid objects which 
is quite sufficient to enable us at once to distinguish 
them from any real scene. But even this difference 
does not exist for people who have only one eye. 

It is quite obvious that in viewing solid objects 
we get slightly different views of them with each eye. 
And yet, unless under exceptional circumstances 
(such as an extra glass of wine or two at dinner), we 
never see these two views, but have a single impres- 
sion of the scene. Now, it is difficult to understand 
how two different views can be so blended as to make 


a single picture. The way the eyes get over the 
difficulty is this : They select some particular part 
of the scene in front of them, and turn towards it in 
such a way that it is thrown on precisely the same 
spot in both retinas the spot where the acutest vision 
resides. In this way the brain receives a precisely 
similar message about this part of the scene, and it is 
easy to understand that these two identical messages 
are perceived as one and the same ; but all the rest 
of the scene is slightly different in each eye. How is 
it that this difference is not perceived ? The answer 
is simply that we do not pay any attention to 
it. We see the rest of the scene double, but our atten- 
tion is so much fixed on the one part of it that we 
see single, that we merely get a general impression of 
the rest. As a matter of fact, the act of seeing con- 
sists in making our eyes converge with great rapidity, 
first on one part and then on another of the scene we 
are looking at, so that we see distinctly every detail 
in turn. It is in this way that we get a distinct 
picture of the whole scene. 

It is a very curious fact that although we are 
continually seeing these double images, yet we never 
know that we see them until our attention is specially 
called to them, and even then we are made aware of 
them with difficulty which is another proof of the 
extent to which we disregard all that is unimportant 
to us in the act of seeing. 

The best way to perceive these double images is 
to hold up a finger about a foot in front of the nose, 
and then to look at a candle some little way off. 


When we look at the candle we distinctly see two 
fingers. When we look at the fingers we see two 

Now, when we look at a picture, nothing of this 
kind takes place. If we fix our gaze on an object in 
the foreground of the picture we do not see the back- 
ground double, and vice versd, as we should do in the 
real scene. Nor do we see two different views of the 
same object in fact, the image of the whole picture 
is practically identical for the two eyes ; and this is 
quite enough to prevent our taking it for a real scene 
unless it be some way off, for at a certain distance, 
even in a' real scene, the image in each eye is practi- 
cally identical. 

But there is more than this in the matter. In 
order to make the two eyes converge on any given 
point, we have to exert the muscles that move the eye. 
This convergence is effected by a little muscle at the 
inner corner of each eye which rolls the eye towards 
the nose. When we make the eyes converge on near 
objects we obviously have to exert these muscles 
more than when they converge on distant ones, and 
the varying sensation of this muscular strain is un- 
doubtedly important in making us aware of the 
relative distances of different objects. Of course this 
method of discrimination fails in the case of pictures. 

Every part of a picture is, roughly speaking, at 
the same distance from the eyes, so the strain of con- 
vergence is the same whether we look at the fore- 
ground or at the distance. But this also does not 
affect pictures seen some way off, for the difference of 


convergence required for an object thirty feet off and 
one a thousand miles away is practically imper- 

Even in the case of pictures seen closely, these 
discrepancies are very small, certainly not great 
enough to prevent a picture being optically almost 
identical with its subject, although they are sufficient 
to destroy any possible illusion on the part of the 
spectator. How small the discrepancies are may be 
readily seen from the fact that they do not affect one- 
eyed people. But there are other slight differences 
which also apply to their case, and which we will 
mention for the sake of completeness, although they 
are of no practical consequence to the painter. 

Besides the larger movements of convergence 
which are required when we look from a distant to a 
near object, there is the much smaller movement of 
accommodation, as it is called, by which the principal 
lens of each eye is made more convex in order to 
bring the nearer object to a sharp focus on the retina. 
In fact, with all people of good sight, the shape of the 
lens is continually changing with the varying distance 
of the object looked at, and this change of shape is 
produced by a muscular effort ; but we are so little 
conscious of this effort, and it seems to play so small 
a part in our recognition of different distances, that it 
may be dismissed as unimportant to our present pur- 
pose. Of course in looking at a picture this adjust- 
ment is not required, but it is very improbable that we 
are conscious of the difference. 

Again, there is the discrepancy in the illumination 


of a picture as compared with that of the real scene, 
but we have already shown that even in extreme cases 
the discrepancy is unimportant, though sufficient to 
prevent any actual illusion, and in many cases (such 
as pictures which are supposed to represent a quiet 
indoor light) it hardly exists. 

There is one other reason why we so seldom take 
a picture for a reality which does not affect the actual 
truthfulness of the representation. When we move 
about in front of a real scene, the different objects 
which compose it take up different positions with 
regard to one another. The whole scene changes as 
we change our point of view. We have an extreme 
instance of this when we look out of the window of a 
rapidly moving train. The near objects seem flying 
past us in a direction contrary to our motion, whilst 
the distance in contrast to them seems to be moving 
with us. Now, any movement, however small, pro- 
duces this effect to a certain extent. But when we 
shift our position in front of a picture, nothing of the 
kind takes place. The picture can become fore- 
shortened as a whole that is, all the objects repre- 
sented in it may seem a little narrower in proportion 
to their height but they do not change their relative 
positions. If an object is fronting us in the picture it 
will remain fronting us, however much we move to 
one side. If an object is partly behind another in 
the picture we cannot see more of it, however much 
we peer round the corner. 

These considerations may, perhaps, explain a very 
simple mystery, that has cast an undeserved glamour 


round the art of the portrait-painter. I have often 
heard it remarked (sometimes in a tone of awe) of 
such and such a portrait, that the eyes of it follow 
you all over the room. 

A very little consideration will show that if the 
eyes in a portrait look at the spectator when he is in 
front of it, they must continue to look straight at him, 
however much he may change his position. No one 
expects to find that a portrait, which is full face in 
one position, becomes three-quarter face in another, 
and yet people are surprised to find that the eyes 
follow the same rule. 

As I have remarked, this discrepancy, although 
generally sufficient to show the unreality of a picture 
(as few people look at anything long without changing 
their positions), cannot be said to militate against the 
possible truthfulness of a picture, which is always 
supposed to be looked at from one point of view. 

This, I think, exhausts the list of necessary dis- 
crepancies between pictures and the scenes that they 
represent. The distinctions are, obviously, of no 
great importance, and certainly cannot in any way 
justify the theory that it is impossible to give anything 
like a true representation of nature. It is certainly 
difficult to produce an actual illusion, but then the 
smallest crack or flaw in the surface of a looking- 
glass is sufficient to tell us that we are looking on a 
reflecting surface and not on a real scene ; but this 
would surely not prevent the reflection from being 
absolutely like the image which produces it 

Similar considerations apply in the case of a 


picture, the essential truth of which is not in the least 
affected by the trifling peculiarities which distinguish 
from the reality. So that we can take it broadly 
that there is nothing to prevent our picture giving to 
the eye essentially the same impression that an actual 
scene gives. 

I have been obliged to insist on this rather 
strongly, as a great deal of nonsense has been talked 
about the impossibility of reproducing nature; from 
which it has been deduced that the true function of 
the artist is to translate natural objects into something 
totally different, it being a hopeless task to endeavour 
to represent them faithfully. Now, of course, such 
a translation may be very interesting, especially to 
those who are chiefly concerned in watching the work- 
ings of artists' minds, but a direct and faithful repre- 
sentation is perfectly possible, and should, to my 
judgment, be the one thing to be aimed at by the 

But although this representation is possible, it is 
by no means easy, and it is rather puzzling to explain 
in what the difficulty consists. 

To state again the problem that is before the 
student: Whenever we look at a scene we have a 
patchwork of forms and colours floating before our 
eyes, and this is in fact the scene. We have to place 
on canvas similar patches similar in form, position, 
and intensity. That is all. Now, why is it so diffi- 
cult ? The crux of the matter lies in this : that we 
have learnt to see in nature so much more than this 
patchwork of forms and colours which is all that is 


impressed on the retina. We ourselves put into a 
scene much more than we actually get from it. We 
say that we see that an object is solid, that it is hard, 
that it is a long way off, &c. Now, we see none of 
these things ; we only infer them. 

Our knowledge of form and distance is gained 
chiefly by touch. We cannot possibly tell the real 
shape of objects merely by looking at them, as the 
appearance of them varies with every new point of 
view that we take up. It is by the association of 
certain visual images with certain definite sensations 
of touch that we are enabled to have an idea of what 
we call the form of a thing that is, of the permanent 
characters which distinguish it from other things, and 
of which the continually varying visual images are 
merely symbols. 

This is, in fact, what we want to get out of vision. 
We want definite information as to the more or less 
permanent characters of things that surround us. We 
make use of our visual impressions for this purpose, 
but pay no attention to what they are like in them- 
selves. It is very much what happens when we hear 
a person talk : we concern ourselves not at all with the 
separate sounds as they reach our ear; we merely use 
them to gain a knowledge of what is passing in 
another man's mind a subject that is quite out of the 
domain of acoustics. 

Here we have the great difficulty : we persistently 

use our eyes for entirely different purposes to those 

pursued by the artist, until at last we lose our faculty 

of seeing pure and simple, and the artist has to 



struggle all his life to disentangle his vision from all 
the things his intellect has put into it, and never quite 
succeeds at the best. 

That is the problem. To see the world as a new- 
born infant sees it an object so difficult of attain- 
ment that we have to seek for help wherever we can 
find it. 

A very remarkable instance of the difficulty we 
have in seeing things as they really appear, and 
also of the way that theory can help us out of these 
difficulties, is afforded by aerial perspective. 

If we put aside the stereoscopic effect of the com- 
bined use of both our eyes, we judge of distance in 
two quite different ways. In the first place, objects 
diminish in size the further off they are ; in the 
second place, they alter in colour and in light and 
shade. These effects can be, to a certain extent, re- 
duced to rule, the former kind being the subject of 
ordinary perspective and the latter of aerial perspec- 
tive. Now, these rules are particularly valuable to 
the artist, as there is nothing in which the judgment 
is more apt to falsify the visual impression than in 
these effects of distance. 

The reason of these errors of judgment un- 
doubtedly lies in the principle we have before men- 
tioned, viz., that we use our eyes for the practical 
purpose of distinguishing one object from another, 
and for this purpose we have to disregard, as much 
as possible, the varying appearances of the same 

As a rule we think of an object as we see it under 


the most favourable circumstances for bringing out 
its peculiarities, viz., near to us, in a good light, and 
in such a position that we see its form most plainly. 
This is, to us, what the object is really like. If we 
happen to see it very much foreshortened we disre- 
gard this foreshortening as much as possible, and so 
far do we carry this that we actually imagine we see 
it less foreshortened than it is. This is why the draw- 
ing of anything that is foreshortened is so very diffi- 
cult. In itself there is no more difficulty in drawing 
an object in one position than in another. In every 
case the object forms a mass of a certain definite out- 
line, which is very often less complicated in the fore- 
shortened form than in the other, yet when we come 
to draw this outline we inevitably modify it in ac- 
cordance with our conception of what the object 
ought to look like. 

For instance, if a beginner has to draw the top of 
a square table, he will inevitably draw it squarer than 
it really appears to him, because his idea of the table 
is a square, although he very likely has never seen it 
as such. Again, if you set a child to draw a carriage, 
even if he has one in front of him to draw from, he 
will certainly make the further wheels as large, or 
nearly so, as the near ones. He knows they are 
really the same size, and this makes him think that 
he sees them so. It is to correct errors of this kind 
that ordinary perspective is so valuable. It is no 
part of my present purpose to enter further into this 
subject. I have merely endeavoured to show why it 
is so necessary to learn it. 
H 2 


A very similar difficulty occurs in the case of 
aerial perspective. We always think of objects as 
they appear to us in their most distinctive colours 
that is, near to us and in a full light. It is extra- 
ordinary how this conception misleads us when we 
look at distant objects. It requires long training 
before we can recognise the colours in which they 
really appear. And yet the colour sensation is there 
if we could only pay attention to it, and not confuse 
it by our ideas of what the colour ought to be. For 
instance, anyone not an artist, if asked what was the 
colour of a clump of dark trees on a distant mountain, 
would inevitably answer " dark green," which is the 
colour he would expect the trees to look if he were 
close to them ; and yet the visual impression 
they make on his retina is that of a pale blue- 
grey. That is how he really sees them ; but it would 
take him years of training before he became aware 
of it. Here the science of aerial perspective steps 
in to help us recover the lost naivete of our visual 
impressions. As we have such a tendency to falsify 
our impressions we must be helped by rules which 
tell us what we really see. 

The subject is a difficult one, and it is only quite 
of late years that it has been put upon a firm 

In most treatises on painting, if any rules of aerial 
perspective be given, they are generally quite false 
and entirely inconsistent with the practice of artists. 
One continually finds such idiotic statements as : 
"the effect of atmosphere on colours is to make 


them bluer/' quite regardless of the fact that the 
sun never looks blue, and the longer the stretch of 
atmosphere that it is seen through (as at sunrise or 
sunset) the further away from blue it gets. 

To arrive at the true theory we must again refer 
to the nature of light. 

The ether waves, which are the physical side of 
light, vary as we have seen in amplitude of swing. 
Now, this is only another way of saying that some of 
the waves are bigger than others. Of the visible 
waves the red are the biggest, the violet are the 
smallest. Now let us transfer our thoughts to the 
seashore. We will suppose it is a rocky coast, with 
great boulders strewn amongst the surf. If we watch 
the waves as they come rolling in, we shall see that 
a big wave sweeps right past a boulder which is large 
enough to turn back a little wave, and to scatter it in 
all directions. Now, in spite of their small size, the 
same thing happens in the case of the ether waves. 
If only we have obstacles small enough, a selective 
influence is exerted, the little waves are turned back 
and scattered in all directions, whilst the big waves 
pass on almost undisturbed. Now, our atmosphere is 
strewn with little particles, which are quite small 
enough to produce this selective effect tiny portions 
of organic or inorganic dust with minute watery 
globules. It is these that render our atmosphere 
visible in itself air is a colourless gas. Now, let us 
consider a little the precise effect of these particles. 
As the light streams to us from the sun it has to run 
the gauntlet of all these little obstacles, with the 


result that a much larger proportion of the big red 
and yellow rays reach our eyes than of the little blue 
and violet ones. If the extent of dust-laden air is not 
too great, as at mid-day, when the sun's rays come 
more or less direct to earth, the resultant light is 
white ; but then there is little doubt that the sun 
itself is blue that is, it would appear blue to us could 
we see it without its being modified by our atmo- 
sphere. But as the excess of blue rays get filtered out 
before the light reaches us, the impression that we get 
is white of a warmish tinge a white that can become 
blood-red at sunset, when the sun's rays have to reach 
us through a vast expanse of the heavily dust-laden 
air that is close to the earth's surface. 

But what becomes of the blue and violet rays ? 
They are dispersed in all directions by these tiny 
obstacles, many of them flying off into space ; but 
some of them, after many different reflections, finally 
find their way to us by a more or less roundabout 
path. It is these rays that constitute the blue of the 
sky. They are the smaller visible waves, filtered out 
from the sunlight that reaches us directly, and restored 
to us in part by the very particles that have stopped 
them and dispersed them. 

This filtering effect applies, of course, not only to- 
the direct light of the sun but also to any light that 
reaches us, whether from a self-luminous body or 
whether it be reflected sunlight. 

Take the case of a distant mountain covered here 
with patches of snow, there with dark pine forests. 
The light that reaches us from the patches of snow 

THEORY. 103 

will be chiefly reflected sunlight. As the light is 
powerful it will reach us almost unchanged by the 
stratum of air in between ; should the mountain be 
very distant, and the air heavily dust-laden, the snow 
will assume a warm tinge, owing to the smaller waves 
being filtered out and dispersed ; but this tendency is 
partly counteracted by the blue light which reaches 
us reflected from the particles themselves in fact, 
the air between us and the mountain is a part of the 
blue sky, and naturally sends blue light to us ; but if 
the light from the snow is very powerful this blue 
light is overpowered, and the general tone is warm. 
The dark forests, on the other hand, send very little 
light to us, so that we get, almost unchanged, the 
blue light of the atmosphere between us and the 
forests, so that instead of the dark green of the pine 
trees what we really see is the light grey-blue of the 

In the same way any patches of rock on the 
mountain which are lighter than the air between them 
and us will appear of a slightly warmer tone than if 
they were close at hand ; whereas dark patches of rock 
will appear of the colour of the atmosphere. 

The light, in fact, that reaches us from any distant 
object is the result of a sort of give and take between 
it and the atmosphere. The light that it sends to us 
is made warmer or more orange by being deprived of 
its blue rays ; but then the atmosphere itself sends us 
a blue light which conflicts with this warm tone. If 
the object is lighter than the atmosphere, the result 
of this exchange is either to leave its colour almost 


unaltered or else to make it warmer ; no light object 
is ever made bluer by distance. 

If the object is darker than the atmosphere the 
atmospheric tint prevails, and its colour becomes 
lighter and bluer. The colour of very dark objects at 
a considerable distance is entirely replaced by the 
atmospheric colour, so that all dark objects at a 
distance have a tendency to assume a light grey-blue 

So that the whole effect of our distant mountain is 
that the patches of light upon it tell out strongly 
with all their differences of colour clearly marked, 
although with a tendency to an extra warmth of hue ; 
whilst the shadows and the dark patches generally 
are of an almost uniform tone of grey-blue all local 
differences of colour being obliterated by the atmo- 
spheric tints between them and the spectator. 

Such is, briefly, the rule of aerial perspective. 
The effect of distance is to leave lights warmer or 
unchanged. Darks all tend to a uniform light grey- 
blue. Once this truth is recognised, the eye can be 
rapidly trained to see the colours of distance as they 
really appear. The painter will never be safe until 
this is done, for no amount of theory can supply the 
want of immediate perception. But the theory can 
undoubtedly aid the perception, and can, to a certain 
extent, supplement its shortcomings. 

But we have not done yet with the action of 
minute particles on light. What we see on a very 
grand scale in the atmosphere obtains also in a much 
lesser degree in artists' pigments. These consist of 

THEORY. 105 

very minute particles, floating about in a more or less 
colourless medium i.e., the oil in which they are 
ground. Now, these minute particles exercise a 
selective effect on light, solely by reason of their 
minuteness, and quite independently of the proper 
colour of the pigment they compose. The pigment 
in itself absorbs certain rays of light, reflects others, 
and transmits others. If the coat of paint be suffi- 
ciently thick and opaque it will hardly transmit any 
rays at all. We then get the true colour of the pig- 
ment that is, simply the rays that it reflects ; but if 
the coat of paint be thin and transparent it is naturally 
modified by the ground on which it is laid shining 
through it. At first sight the effect of this would 
seem to be very simple. A white ground, such as the 
ordinary surface of a canvas, shining through a thin 
coat of pigment, would naturally be supposed to make 
the pigment appear whiter, whilst a black ground 
would make it blacker, and, generally, a ground of 
any particular colour would simply mix its own tint 
with that of the overlaid pigment. 

But in practice this is found not to be the case 
not, at least, with the simplicity and completeness 
that we should expect. 

For instance, if we smear a little yellow ochre 
lightly over a white ground, so that it appears more 
or less transparent, the resultant colour is more 
orange than the proper hue of yellow ochre. Again, 
if we rub it lightly over a black ground we get a 
much colder tint. It assumes a slightly greenish 


The effect is, perhaps, most marked with black 
pigments. If we mix ivory-black with flake-white we 
have a neutral grey. If, instead of mixing it with a 
white pigment, we rub it lightly over a white ground, 
so that the ground shows through, we obtain a 
decided brown ; whereas, if we take the neutral grey 
produced by the mixture with flake-white and rub it 
lightly over a black ground, we do not obtain merely 
a darker grey but a grey that is of a decidedly bluish 
tinge. And, generally, we can say of all pigments, 
that when a ground lighter than themselves is seen 
through them, then the resultant tint inclines towards 
warmth ; whereas if the ground be darker than them- 
selves, the resultant colour inclines towards coldness 
warm and cold, as applied to colours, meaning here, 
as elsewhere, nearer the red and nearer the violet 
ends of the spectrum respectively. 

Of course the effect of this is very slight, but it is 
distinctly perceptible, and has to be carefully borne 
in mind in all oil-painting. Only by painting thickly 
can we be sure that any tint we have mixed will re- 
main unchanged when we put it on the canvas. A 
thin coat of paint will be warmer or colder than its 
true tint, according as it is put over a light or a dark 

So different are the effects of a thin coat of paint 
on a light and a dark ground respectively that artists 
apply two different names to these operations. A 
thin coat of paint over a ground lighter than itself is 
called a glaze, but over a ground darker than itself 
is called a scumble. A glaze nearly always gives 

THEORY. 107 

richness and warmth, whereas scumbling is used to 
give cold grey tints. 

This cold or warm tendency that is added to the 
original colour is produced precisely in the same way 
as the modifications of aerial perspective. We have 
seen how the light parts of a mountain look warmer 
through the intervening stratum of air, whereas the 
darks look bluer, and that this is solely owing to the 
smallness of the particles floating about in the air. 
The white ground of our picture answers to the 
snowy parts of the mountain. The light that it re- 
flects back to the eye has to run the gauntlet of the 
minute particles in the layer of paint above it, so that 
an undue proportion of the small blue waves get dis- 
persed in the process, leaving an excess of the larger 
red and orange waves to reach the eye. On the con- 
trary, when the ground is dark it absorbs nearly all 
the rays that reach it ; but then these rays have been 
sifted in their progress through the layer of paint, so 
that an undue proportion of the larger waves get 
through and are absorbed, leaving an excess of the 
colder ones to be reflected back. 

Of course it is quite possible in painting to make 
use of this property of pigments. There are many 
greys that can be obtained more readily by painting 
lightly over a dark ground than by mixing the re- 
quired tint and painting it solidly, and there are some 
rich, warm tints which can hardly be obtained without 
a glaze of some transparent colour. Like many other 
things in oil-painting, what at first is a difficulty be- 
comes, in more practised hands, an additional resource. 


I must mention that the explanation I have given 
of the way that small particles exercise their selective 
influence is the one given by Helmholtz and Tyndall. 
Other explanations have been proposed, and I believe 
the subject is still a matter of controversy, but the 
fact that small particles do have this effect on light 
is undeniable, and is quite independent of any theory 
as to how they do it. 

The space at my disposal hardly permits me to 
enter at greater length into the theoretical questions 
that underlie the art of painting, but I hope I have 
said enough to show not only that something is 
known of the theoretical side of art, but also that an 
acquaintance with that side of art can be of service in 
the practical pursuit of painting. Fortunately there 
are no lack of writers who have treated these 
questions from the scientific side, and, should any 
art-student wish to rest his mind from the cant and 
ignorance of art-critics and the meaningless eloquence 
of the writers on aesthetics generally, I can recommend 
him nothing more salutary and refreshing than a 
course of Helmholtz, Stokes, or Tyndall. 

Who knows ? some day the art of painting may 
become progressive; but I am convinced that that 
day will not come until painters learn to study their 
business with the same devotion and the same in- 
telligence with which men of science study theirs. 


THE student should accustom himself from the very first to 
use none but permanent pigments, for, should he eventually 
be able to sell his works, he is bound in common honesty 
to see that they are constructed of the best and most 
durable materials, and are painted in a substantial and 
workmanlike manner. 

It is true that the world would be none the worse in 
fact, rather the better if most of the pictures that are 
painted every year were to fade away into nothingness ; yet, 
quite apart from the question of honesty to possible pur- 
chasers, it is certain that no artist will do his best unless 
he is firmly convinced that his works belong to the small 
minority which deserve immortality, and he should take 
every pains to make them physically capable of enduring 
for ever. 

Fortunately, a good deal of attention has been paid of 
late to the question of the stability of pigments, so that it is 
now quite possible to draw up a very full list of colours that 
are known to be permanent, if only they are properly pre- 
pared; and also we can be tolerably certain that artists' 
colourmen of established reputation do prepare them pro- 
perly, for it is not to their interest to do otherwise. Their 
charges are quite sufficiently high to pay for the best skill 
and the best material and to yield them a large profit 
besides, and, as there is considerable competition in the 
matter, any firm whose pigments were found to deteriorate 
with time would very soon be crowded out by its honester 
or more skilful rivals. 



I give below a list of all the oil-colours that are likely 
to be serviceable to artists, and which are sufficiently per- 
manent to justify their use : 

Flake white. 

Zinc white. 


Brown ochre. 

Roman ochre. 

Yellow ochre. 

Raw sienna. 

Cadmium (pale and deep). 

Lemon yellow (pale and deep). 

Naples yellow (pale and deep). 

Orange vermilion. 

Ordinary vermilion. 

Chinese vermilion. 

Light red. 

Indian red. 

Venetian red. 

Burnt sienna. 

Scarlet madder. 

Rose madder. 

Crimson madder. 

Madder carmine. 

Brown madder. 



French ultramarine. 

Ultramarine ash. 

Oxyde of chromium. 

Emerald oxyde of chromium. 

Cobalt green. 

Raw umber. 

Burnt umber. 

Vandyke brown. 

Blue black. 

Ivory black. 

I must mention that Professor Church (Professor of 
Chemistry to the Royal Academy), who has very kindly 
assisted me in drawing up this list, considers that the 
madders are not quite of the first order of permanency, 
changing slightly on exposure to direct sunlight. They 
should be used with caution, and, if possible, locked up 
in copal or amber varnish, which has a material effect in 
preserving doubtful colours. It is quite impossible to do 
without some kind of lake, and as all the other lakes, such 
as carmine or crimson lake, are quite unfit for use on 
account of their tendency to fade, we are obliged to have 
recourse to the madders. Most authorities, with the ex- 
ception of Professor Church, seem to consider that the 
madder lakes are permanent in oil colours. 

They must on no account be confounded with yellow 
madder, which fades very rapidly on exposure to light. 

APPENDIX, 1 1 1 

Professor Church also includes vandyke brown amongst 
the somewhat doubtful colours. As far as my own practice 
goes I have always found it permanent ; but as it is not an 
absolutely necessary colour it may be as well to avoid it. 

Considerable doubts have been cast on the stability of 
flake white, and zinc white has been recommended in pre- 
ference ; but Professor Church considers that the former 
is perfectly stable under all ordinary conditions, and it is 
particularly agreeable to use on account of its full body, 
whereas the latter, although quite permanent, is so thin as 
to be almost unfit for practical use. 

It is not necessary to give a list of the unsafe colours, 
but there are one or two against which the student should 
be specially warned for instance, lemon cadmium, or 
Mutrie yellow, as it is sometimes called, is very fugitive, 
although ordinary pale cadmium is considered quite safe. 
I have already mentioned that carmine, crimson lake and 
yellow madder are very fugitive. Bitumen, although the 
colour of it is permanent, is a very dangerous pigment, as it 
is always liable to liquefy when exposed to a moderate 
degree of heat, and this naturally prevents it from com- 
bining properly with other colours, and is likely eventually 
to produce cracks. 

The medium used for painting when properly chosen 
tends to preserve the pigments it is used with. Copal, 
amber varnish, linseed-oil, nut-oil, poppy-oil, Roberson's 
medium, siccatif de Harlem and turpentine are all safe 
mediums to use. Nut-oil and poppy-oil are very slow driers, 
so they are not available for ordinary purposes. Turpen- 
tine should be used tolerably fresh, as it has a tendency to 
become yellow and resinous. The other mediums will keep 
indefinitely, except that they are apt to get rather thick 
with age. 

Varnish also tends to preserve pictures, but it should 


not be applied until the picture has been painted at least a 
year, as it is essential that all the layers of paint should be 
perfectly dry before the picture is varnished. Mastic is the 
only varnish that should be used, as it can always be rubbed 
off if it has got dark with age without in any way injuring 
the paint beneath. Before pictures are varnished it is as 
well to protect them with a glass, especially in London. 
After they are varnished the glass can be dispensed with. 
If there be any danger of the pictures suffering from foul 
air, the back of the canvas should be whitewashed with a 
paste made by mixing starch with flake white in powder. 

It must be remembered that oil pictures, especially 
when freshly painted, should not be kept in the dark, as the 
oil in them has a tendency to grow darker when deprived 
of light. However, a picture that has suffered in this way 
can generally be restored to its proper tone by putting it 
for some time in sunlight to bleach. Should this not be 
sufficient, a solution of peroxide of hydrogen can be em- 
ployed to hasten the bleaching process. 


Accessories, 4145. 
Alma-Tadema, Mr., Palette of, 


Anatomy, 35, 36. 
Art of Painting, 1,2. 
Atmosphere, Effect of, 100, 103, 


Background, 45. 
" Bleaching," 112. 
" Blocking out," II. 
Boschini, 62. 
"Breadth," 8789. 
Brougham, Lord, 72. 
Brushes, 15, 53, 55. 

Cadmium, Deep and Pale, 13, 


Camera, Photographic, 69, 70. 
Cast, Painting from, 31, 32. 
Charcoal Studies, 42, 43. 
Chrome, 13. 

Chromium, Emerald Oxide of, 1 3. 
Church, Prof., on Oil Colours, 

IIO 112. 

"Colour," Theory of, 7178, 

81, 108. 

Colour-blindness, 71, 77 79- 
Colours, The Choice of, 1215 ; 

Mr. Poynter's Directions as 
to, 51 54; the Constitution 

of, 73- 

Convergence of the Eyes, 92, 93. 
Costumes, Ancient, 44. 


Deceptions of Vision, 89 95. 
Directions for Oil Painting by 

Mr. Poynter, 5154. 
Distance, 98, 104. 
Draperies, Study of, 34, 44, 45. 
Drawing, Preliminary, P, 9, 27. 
Drying of Canvas, 19. 
Duran, M. Carolus, Method of, 

Dutch Painters, 63. 


Edges, Sharp, 21. 
Ether, Waves of, 66, 67, 76, 101. 
Eye, The Human, 70, 76, 79, 
80, 84, 85. 


Figure Drawing and Painting, 

27, 28, 3035- 
Flesh Painting, 32-34. 


Glazing, 53, 107. 
Greek Art, 28, 29, 35. 




Hamerton, Mr , on the "Graphic 

Arts," 62, 64. 
Harmony, 24. 
Helmholtz on the " Theory of 

Colour," 72, 73, 81, 108. 

Illumination, 8587, 93. 
Imagination, 37, 38. 

Landscape Painting, 24 27, 50, 
51, 85. 86. 

" Laws of the Medes and Per- 
sians," 5154- 

Leonardo, 3, 36, 63. 

I ight, Theory of, 6, 7, 22, 23, 
76, 82, 83 86, 87, 101 103, 

Linseed Oil, Use of, 14, 19, in. 

Looking-glass, Use of, 10, 27. 

Luminosity, 75. 


Materials to be used, 8. 
Matter, The Nature of, 6668. 
" Medium," Use of, 14, 19, 53, 

Merrifield, Mrs., on the Art of 

Painting, 63. 
Methods of Painting, 51, 55, 57, 


Michael Angelo, 28. 
Middle Ages, 41. 
Millais, Sir J., 9, 50, 51, 59. 

Millet, 40. 

Models, 29, 30, 35, 42 44. 
Monochrome, 51, 54. 
Moonlight. 84, 86, 87. 
Murray Method, The, 60. 
Mythology, 41. 

Nature, Faithful Representation 

of, 65, 96. 

Newton on Colours, 73. 
Novice, 99. 
Nude, 29, 30. 


Obliquity, 10. 

Oil Colours, List of, no 112. 

Oiling of Canvas, 19. 

Optic Nerve, 68, 70. 

Paint, Laying on, 17, 18, 106. 

Palette, 12 15. 

Panorama of the Siege of Paris, 

Particles, Minute, 66, 104 106, 

1 08. 

Perspective, Aerial, 26, 98 104. 
Phidias, 28. 
Picturesque, 40. 
Piece-meal, Painting, 55 57. 
Pigments, 12, 15, 74, 82, 83, 

105 107, 109. 

Portraits, Treatment of, 47 50. 
Portraiture, 36 50. 
Poynter, Mr., Method of, 51 

54, 59- 


Praxiteles, 28. 

"Primaries,"or Primary Colours, 

73, 75- 

Proportion, 28, 44. 
Pupils, I, 2. 


Raffaelle's " Transfiguration," 


Rays, 68, 71, 102. 105. 

" Reality " of Pictures, 46. 

Renaissance, Italian, 41. 

Retina of the Human Eye, 70, 
76, 79, 80, 84, 85, 88. 

Reynolds, Sir J., Method of, 6l. 

Rood, Prof., on "Modern Chro- 
matics," 81. 

Rose madder. 15. 

Saturation, 75- 

"Scene," 4, 83. 

Scenes, Discrepancies of, 92 98. 

"Secondaries," or Secondary 

Colours, 73, 75, 76. 
Sensations of Colour, 78 80, 

82, 87. 

Sight, Theory of, 66 71. 
Sketch, Preliminary, II, 42. 
Statues, Antique, 20, 35. 
" Still-life," 6, 7, 8, 23, 24. 
Stokes, Prof., 108. 
Student, 2, 65, 96. 
Subjects, Study of, 38 50. 

Sunlight, 8386. 

Tadema, Mr. Alma-, Palette of, 


Technique, 5. 

Teniers, 63. 

" Tertiaries, " or Tertiary Co- 
lours, 74, 76. 

Texture, 20, 21, 32. 

Theory of Painting, 65, 108. 

"Tint," 22, 75, 

Tints, Matching of, 16, 17, 20; 
Warmth of, 107. 

Titian, Method of, 62. . 

" Tone," 22, 25. 

Touch, 97. 

Turner, 50. 

Tyndall, Prof., 108. 


Umber, 13. 

Vandyke brown, ill. 
Varnish, in, 112. 
Velasquez, 90. 
Vision, Illusions of, 89 95, 98. 


Wollaston on Sunligh^, 84. 
White, Flake and Zinc, 1 1 1 . 

Young, Thomas, 72, 76, 77, Si, 



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